The New York Times | Pizza Delivery Man Detained by ICE Is Freed By Judge
By Liz Robbins
July 24, 2018
A federal district court judge on Tuesday ordered the immediate release of Pablo Villavicencio Calderon, an undocumented pizza delivery man, from immigration detention in New Jersey, where he had been locked up since June 1.
The order came after a morning hearing in which Judge Paul A. Crotty, an appointee of President George W. Bush and the former corporation counsel for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, pointedly questioned the government about why it had detained Mr. Villavicencio and planned to deport him. “Is there any concept of justice here?” Judge Crotty asked the government’s lawyer.
Later in the day, the judge said that Mr. Villavicencio, 35, who is married to a United States citizen and in February began a petition for a green card, should be released. The judge granted a stay of deportation while Mr. Villavicencio pursues permanent residency.
“Removal is no longer reasonably feasible,” Judge Crotty wrote in an order to be followed by a formal opinion.
“It’s absolutely sensational, he’s back with his family and the judge has allowed him to go through the process,” said Gregory Copeland, one of Mr. Villavicencio’s lawyers from the Legal Aid Society of New York.
Judge Crotty set the tone for his decision during the hearing in Manhattan when he questioned why Mr. Villavicencio had been held for 53 days by the immigration agency since his arrest while dropping off food at a Brooklyn army base. “Is he a threat to the country? A flight risk? Don’t they have to justify it?” he asked the government lawyer.
The lawyer, Joseph Cordaro, stammered, but said that the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, had made the decision.
Mr. Villavicencio was arrested when delivering food from a Queens brick-oven pizzeria to a Fort Hamilton Army base. He presented a municipal identification card from the city, known as IDNYC, which Mr. Villavicencio has said he used previously at the base. This time it was not accepted.
A military police officer on duty said Mr. Villavicencio needed a driver’s license, which he did not have; the officer then ran a background check — which Mr. Villavicencio has said he did not consent to — which revealed an open order of deportation from 2010.
Despite the order, Mr. Villavicencio, who is originally from Ecuador, had not left the country, and in 2013, he married Sandra Chica, a naturalized citizen. Through her sponsorship, Mr. Villavicencio applied for permanent residency. But it was not until Tuesday morning that his lawyers received a date for an interview: Aug. 21.
Earlier this month, a judge had temporarily blocked Mr. Villavicencio’s deportation.
Throughout the hearing, Ms. Chica sat in the front row of the gallery while the couple’s two daughters, ages 3 and 4, played with rainbow beanie babies and princess figurines. Mr. Villavicencio was not in the Manhattan courtroom; he was detained at Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny, N.J.
For that reason, the government was arguing for a change of venue, to New Jersey. Mr. Villavicencio’s lawyers, from Debevoise & Plimpton and Legal Aid, wanted to keep the case in New York, since it was originally filed in the Southern District in Manhattan and keeping it in that jurisdiction would offer the swiftest resolution.
During the hearing Judge Crotty made a point that still resonated when he made his decision six hours later. “The powerful are doing what they want,” he said, “and the poor are suffering what they must.”