The Intercept: ICE Defied A Court Order In Vendetta Against Deportee

Danny Michel, photographed at his parents’ home on Long Island, New York, on Sept. 5, 2018.

Danny Michel, photographed at his parents’ home on Long Island, New York, on Sept. 5, 2018.

The Intercept | ICE Defied A Court Order In Vendetta Against Deportee
September 28th, 2018
by Alice Speri

Danny Michel’s daughter and attorneys kept refreshing a map tracking his flight as they walked into federal court in Brooklyn on a sweltering Monday evening last month. On their phones, they watched his JetBlue flight from Port-au-Prince land at JFK airport as they waited for the after-hours judge on duty to see them. Timing was key: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had warned that they would detain Michel as soon as he stepped on U.S. soil. They needed the judge to stop ICE before it got to him.

Michel’s attorneys succeeded, but for the next several hours, they found themselves fighting with the government to have their client released while ICE held him in violation of the judge’s order. By the time he finally walked free the next day, Michel had been in ICE custody — illegally — since landing in the U.S. nearly 10 hours earlier.

“This is classic ICE intimidation tactics; this is what they do,” Gregory Copeland, a supervising attorney with Legal Aid’s immigration law unit, and one of Michel’s attorneys, told The Intercept. “They’re sore losers. When they lose, and somebody gets released, they still try to be heavy-handed and throw around their authority or whatever it is. That’s typical ICE behavior.”

It had taken more than two years to get Michel home. A 54-year-old with a youthful smile, he had lived in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident since 1970. Born in Haiti, Michel was raised in Brooklyn and was living on Long Island when two drug convictions triggered deportation proceedings against him in 1999. Michel spent the next six years, until 2005, in an immigration detention center in upstate New York, then 10 more years under a deportation order but free on bond, meaning that he had to check in regularly with immigration officials — which he did religiously.

Then in June 2016, without notice, Michel was detained at his regular check-in, sent to ICE facilities in Alabama and Florida, and deported in July. Before his deportation, Legal Aid filed a motion with the Board of Immigration Appeals challenging a years-old deportation order against him, on the grounds that he had become eligible for citizenship decades earlier, and that the charges filed against him were no longer considered removable offenses. They also asked the board to stop his deportation while the motion was pending, which the board refused to do because it found the motion to reopen the case unlikely to succeed. When the motion did succeed, only weeks later, Michel was already in Haiti, a country he had last seen when he was a toddler.

Deportation is often the last chapter in legal battles and human dramas that unfold over years, but Michel managed to navigate Kafkaesque bureaucracies in both the U.S. and Haiti to return, fight his case, and win a rare victory: Shortly after his return, an immigration judge terminated his deportation proceedings, and while ICE has asked the judge to reconsider that decision, Michel is, for now, a free man.

But while his two-decade struggle with U.S. immigration enforcement points to a system that has long been mired in intransigence veering on the absurd, his first night back after deportation, and ICE’s insistence on detaining him even after a judge had ruled that they couldn’t do so, speaks of an agency that is growing increasingly rogue — emboldened by the political moment to exert authority even where it has none, and to defy the rule of law even when it claims to be enforcing it. ICE did not respond to requests for comment. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, which represented ICE in court, declined to comment.

First Night Back

Michel’s flight landed around 9 p.m. By 9:15 p.m., Judge Margo Brodie had issued a restraining order prohibiting ICE from detaining him without showing the court “clear and convincing evidence” that he was a flight risk or a danger to the community. ICE was notified of the decision by 9:18 p.m., according to court documents filed in the following hours.

Michel’s 30-year-old daughter Britney, who had tried to decipher what the judge would decide from the tone of her questions and by looking for signs of confidence in the attorneys’ answers, allowed herself to be hopeful at last. As the group walked out the chambers, a janitor saw the smiles on their faces and gave them a thumbs-up.

While Britney and the attorneys were still waiting in court, on the plane to New York, Michel ate snacks and watched The Avengers while he tried to calm his nerves. He couldn’t believe that he was really going home. He had felt a similar sense of incredulity on his last flight two years earlier: He had been in shackles then and headed to a country he couldn’t remember. “When we landed and the doors opened, I felt the heat just come in,” he told me during a recent interview, recalling his first moments in Haiti. When he walked out of the Port-au-Prince airport and into the city’s streets, buzzing with cars, vendors, chickens, and pigs, he had found himself in a world he had only seen on National Geographic.

Now making the opposite journey, Michel had just one worry: “At the back of my head I’m like, are they going to lock me up?” he said. “But you know what, my daughter said, ‘Daddy, be strong and think positive’ so I started thinking like that.”

For someone who has endured the ordeal he has, Michel comes off as an impossibly positive guy, who jokes about his exchanges with unsympathetic officials and appears to draw from a bottomless well of cheerfulness. But when his plane landed in New York, his optimism was tested. The pilot warned there were “mechanical issues” with the gangway. “I’m like, OK, maybe they’re waiting for me,” he recalled thinking. Moments later, the pilot asked, “Is there a Danny Michel on the plane?”

With everyone’s eyes on him, Michel made his way down the plane. A short man flanked by two uniformed officers curtly asked if he had his paperwork — Michel took a breath and replied, “Hi, how are you? Yes, I got some paperwork.” The officers ordered him to follow them and handcuffed him in front of everyone, before leading him to a freezing room, then a different terminal, and finally a van. They asked him questions but gave few answers. “You are going to our office,” they told him after he insisted to know where they were taking him. “And then you are going to be transferred to another place.”

“They’re Not Releasing Me”

After they left court, Britney and one of Michel’s attorneys, Sarah Gillman, took a taxi to the airport to pick him up, but Michel was nowhere to be found.

Gillman contacted the government’s attorneys, who told her that ICE officers would get in touch. When they finally did, at 11:41 p.m., they told her that they had taken Michel to 26 Federal Plaza, a federal building in downtown Manhattan. Gillman called Copeland, who had gone home and could get to Manhattan faster. Finally, at around 1 a.m., Michel called too: “They’re telling me that they’re not releasing me.”

As she watched Gillman frantically call and email, Britney’s excitement crumbled. “I was so excited, just eager to see him,” she told me. “And then we got to the terminal and we waited, and waited, and waited, and so that excitement slowly drowned.”

Britney and Gillman rushed to Manhattan and met Copeland outside 26 Federal Plaza. For the next several hours, they stood on an eerily deserted Duane Street, just outside the building’s entrance, emailing the government’s attorneys and demanding that ICE release their client.

“You continue to detain Mr. Michel for immigration purposes in violation of the Judge’s order,” Copeland emailed the government’s attorneys at 1 a.m. “A Deportation Officer is now telling Mr. Michel that he is not being released tonight, saying they do not have the authority. This is outrageous.” “Mr. Michel has still not been released,” Gillman emailed at 2:05 a.m. — and then again at 2:30, 2:58, 3:57, and 6:29 a.m.

At some point, Britney fell asleep sitting on the sidewalk. Around 4 a.m., Copeland left to file a new motion asking the court to compel ICE to release Michel. Britney left a little later — she was exhausted from the night’s emotions, and she had to be at work in a few hours. Gillman remained alone outside 26 Federal Plaza, emailing and texting the government for news of her client. The building’s security asked her, “You’re still here?” — she later told me — “Yes, I’m still here because my client’s still inside,” she replied.

Then at 6:35 a.m., after Copeland filed a motion to hold ICE in contempt of court, the government’s attorneys emailed to let Gillman know that Michel would be released “within the next few minutes.” An ICE officer then called her and told her to go meet Michel on the street.

“Excuse me?” she said she replied. She had told ICE all along where she was standing – right at the building’s entrance. The officer replied, “Your client’s on Broadway. Just go and meet him.” Incensed, Gillman asked for the officer’s name. He replied, “Don’t worry about it, hon.”

A Long Journey Home

I met Michel and his family a week after he returned home, at his elderly parents’ home on a tidy street in Elmont, New York. Michel seemed as excited and incredulous as if he had just arrived. His family is tight-knit, and he had clearly been missed.

Michel’s parents sat and listened as he recalled his ordeal over tea. His father has been sick for decades, and moves and speaks with difficulty. Michel was always the one to take care of him before he was deported; the two years without Michel were tough on the family. For as long as Michel could remember, his mother had been the family’s pillar — working two or three jobs while he and his siblings were growing up in Flatbush, and finally saving up enough to move the family to a pretty house on Long Island. When Michel was released after nearly six years in immigration detention, on a $25,000 bond, his mother had to guarantee the bond against the house.

“There were many times that I felt I wasn’t going to see my family again,” Michel told me, speaking in his parents’ living room, which was covered wall-to-wall with family photos. “My mom, my daughter, and goddaughter, they were really the backbone of the family. Without them I wouldn’t be standing right here.”

Britney’s life had been marked by her father’s two-decade ordeal with immigration. He had spent most of her teenage years in immigration detention. “I didn’t see my dad for years,” she said. “He was my letter buddy, because he wrote me letters all the time.”

“Although he wasn’t there physically, he was still there on the phone, constantly helping me out with school stuff on the phone,” she added. “I would lash out with my mom and he was the mediator between us, even though he wasn’t physically there, he was there, regardless.”

When Michel was released on bond, they grew even closer. He would go over to her apartment in Brooklyn and fix things for her, or help her paint the walls. There were family barbecues, and for the first time, Britney thought he might be there on the day she got married.

“Then when he was detained, that reality that I once had of him, of not knowing when he would come home, suddenly resurfaced,” she said. “I am just exhausted with having to deal with him being here for a little, short period of time, and then him being gone. And for what?”

When Michel was in Haiti, they’d talk on WhatsApp — but poor phone and internet service and constant electricity cuts made keeping in touch a constant source of frustration. They also made getting Michel home a lot harder, as his lawyers struggled to communicate with him.

In Haiti, Michel had no money or support system. A distant relative picked him up at the airport when he was deported, and from New York his parents helped him find a place to stay in the south of the island and sent him some money every month so he could eat. But Michel didn’t speak Creole well, couldn’t get a job, and was embarrassed to have gone back to Haiti a deportee.

“I never really thought of myself as Haitian growing up,” Michel said. “I’ve been here since I was 5, so all I’ve known was really America, and growing up in America.”

“It’s very difficult to walk down the street without people looking at you, because you look different, you walk different, you don’t speak,” he added of his time in Haiti. “Every day I was just dealing with the shadow of myself, do you know what I mean? I wasn’t there. I was somebody else, in a strange place.”

Michel spent most of his time in Haiti going to church and trying to get the paperwork he needed to come back to the U.S. That wasn’t easy. He had no understanding of Haiti’s bureaucracy, and no connections to help him through a system that largely moved through personal favors. “It was really challenging for him,” Gillman recalled. “I remember him saying to me, I don’t know how many times, ‘Sarah, I think I almost got the passport,’ but then he didn’t get the passport. ‘Sarah, I think I almost got the passport,’ but he didn’t get the passport. ‘Sarah, I went to the office, and they were supposed to have the passport ready, and they’re not.’”

“Something was always missing,” Michel said. “Anytime something was spelled wrong, it had to go back to Port-au-Prince. … The date is incorrect, it has to go back to Port-au-Prince.”

“Let me tell you, they say the squeaky wheel gets the oil, so I just started bothering people all the time,” he added. “I was like, I need it, I need it. It’s for my ID. I need it.”

When Michel finally got his passport, Britney bought him a ticket home, as his lawyers prepared to prevent ICE from detaining him again. But Michel’s hopes were dashed at the check-in desk: The government had failed to tell his attorneys that he needed additional documentation from the U.S. Embassy in Haiti. “I was distraught,” he said. “Because I was ready to go. I finally put my mindset on going.”

It was a Friday. Michel went straight from the airport to the embassy, where he was told the documents he needed would only be valid if issued on the day he traveled. Michel’s family and attorneys tried to book him on a flight two days later — but that was a Sunday, and the government’s attorneys demanded that he fly during a business day. “Not a hint of feeling bad about forcing this guy to go back and forth to the airport,” Copeland told me. “Not a hint that they’re causing extra work for us. They just absolutely could not care.”

At last, on Monday, August 27, Michel got the documents he needed, made it through security, got on a plane, and finally, after hours held by agents with no authority to do so, home.

“It’s a competition to them. The sense of justice and fairness is almost lost. It’s approaching law enforcement like a no-holds-barred game,” said Copeland. “Like, ‘We’re going to flex our muscle and do what we can do just because we can do it.’”

“Even when what they are doing is patently lawless.”

Federal Judge Stays Deportation of Edisson Barros, Father of Two & Veteran New York City Cab Driver

Edisson Barros is pictured with his daughter Paola at her high school graduation.    Photo courtesy of Paola Barros/GoFundMe

Edisson Barros is pictured with his daughter Paola at her high school graduation. 

Photo courtesy of Paola Barros/GoFundMe

The Legal Aid Society announced Friday morning that Katherine Polk Failla, United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, issued a stay of deportation late Thursday night for Edisson Barros, a 25-year native of Queens, father of two, and veteran New York City cab driver who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) last month and had been scheduled for immediate removal back to Ecuador.

Mr. Barros was issued a summons for a mere desk ticket after a dispute as he protected his beloved family dog from a reckless motorist. Following the incident, Mr. Barros dutifully appeared in court to successfully contest the charges, but was subsequently arrested by ICE when leaving court.

Mr. Barros was originally detained at Hudson County Correctional Facility but was recently transferred to an ICE facility in Louisiana, far from his family, for removal. The stay of removal is in place pending the outcome of this litigation.

Gregory Copeland, Sarah Gillman, Jennifer Williams, Allison Wilkinson, and Ramya Ravishankar with Legal Aid’s Immigration Law Unit represent Mr. Barros.

“We welcome this decision affording Mr. Barros a genuine opportunity to stay in this country while he fights his immigration case,” said Gregory Copeland, Supervising Attorney with the Immigration Law Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “Mr. Barros’ case is yet another troubling example of this federal Administration’s cruel war to separate families, whether at the southern border or here in this sanctuary city. We look forward to ensuring that Mr. Barros remains in New York City – his home for more than 25 years - with his family and community.”

“I am greatly relieved that Mr. Barros has been granted a stay. He is a dedicated family man and by all accounts a valued member of his community. It is my hope that his family and attorneys can now see him quickly returned to New York. I will continue pressing for a favorable outcome in this case,” said Congress Member Nydia M. Velázquez.

“The ultimate goal is to reunite Edisson with his family. But first a stay of deportation was needed, and thanks to the incredible and tireless work of the Legal Aid Society, the Barros family now has a fighting chance,” said City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, Chair of the Committee on Immigration. “It’s important to remember how we got to this point, which was due to the family’s own advocacy, the elevation of their cause by activists and the press, and the help of my colleagues in government, particularly Council Member Francisco Moya and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. This victory is proof once again of an important truth: that ICE is not all powerful, that we have the tools to defend the most vulnerable among us, and that when we unite our efforts we can achieve anything on behalf of our immigrant brothers and sisters.”

"This monumental victory is the culmination of dedicated grassroots organizing and people coming together for what is morally right. We will continue fighting to ensure Edisson's freedom, and for the dignity of all undocumented immigrants," said Carlos Jesus Calzadilla-Palacio, President of Young Progressives of America.


Pizza Deliveryman Detained by ICE Is Freed by Judge

Timothy A. Clary/Agence France-Presse | Getty Images

Timothy A. Clary/Agence France-Presse | Getty Images

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.”

Villavicencio Family, Advocates & Elected Officials Call On ICE To Release Pablo Villavicencio From Detention

Sandra Chica, Pablo Villavicencio's wife, pleads for ICE to release her husband.

Sandra Chica, Pablo Villavicencio's wife, pleads for ICE to release her husband.

The Legal Aid Society Submits
Formal Detention Release Request To Ice

The Legal Aid Society; Sandra Chica, wife of Pablo Villavicencio, and their children; New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson; Council Members Carlos Menchaca and Justin Brannan; members from Make The Road New York; and others gathered out front of the Jacob Javits Federal Building today demanding the release of Pablo Villavicencio from Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) custody.

“Spending Father’s Day without my husband was unbelievably painful for me and my daughters,” said Sandra Chica, wife of Pablo Villavicencio. “Pablo’s detention is punishment that our entire family feels. We call on ICE to do the right thing and let him come home immediately.”

Last Saturday, a federal court judge temporarily stayed Mr. Villavicencio’s deportation to Ecuador. However, Mr. Villavicencio is still in ICE custody at Hudson County Correctional Facility in New Jersey.

“Pablo’s continued detention is cruel and unjust, and it has caused incredible punitive hardship for the Villavicencio family,” said Jennifer Williams, Deputy Attorney-In-Charge of the Immigration Law Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “His release is not only an issue of morals but one rooted in the law. The Legal Aid Society stands with the Villavicencio family and many others calling on ICE to release Pablo immediately.”

“Our community stands with Sandra and her children in demanding Pablo’s immediate release,” said Antonio Alarcon, immigration youth organizer with Make the Road New York. “Pablo belongs at home with his children, not locked in a cage by an out-of-control agency that just wants to tear apart our families. We will not rest until Pablo is free.”


Council Member Carlos Menchaca with Legal Aid attorney Jennifer Williams

The Legal Aid Society submitted a formal request to ICE demanding Pablo’s release. The request argues:

Humanitarian factors warrant Mr. Villavicencio’s release including the significant emotional and financial hardship to his U.S. citizen wife and minor U.S. citizen daughters, his youngest daughter’s delicate medical conditions, his long-time residence in the United States, community ties, employment history, and tremendous community support, including from the highest elected officials of the City of New York demonstrate that Pablo is not a flight risk. Mr. Villavicencio has no criminal history, and is in no way a threat to public safety or national security. Mr. Villavicencio’s detention pending the resolution of his federal court claims, and investigations into the circumstances surrounding his detention, is unsupported law, and violates ICE’s own regulations. Debevoise & Plimpton LLP is co-counsel with The Legal Aid Society in representing Mr. Villavicencio.

“Pablo is a contributing member of our great city. He provides for his family and takes care of his community. He has delivered pizzas to the Fort Hamilton Army Base multiple times with no incident. Detaining him obviously did not make us safer. On the contrary, it robbed a family of its breadwinner, placing their lives in unnecessary peril, and thereby showcasing how arbitrary and senseless our immigration system has become. The courts agree, which is why they issued a stay of deportation last week. However, only Pablo’s immediate release can correct for this injustice and we will not stop fighting until this happens,” said City Council Member Carlos Menchaca.

NY1: Wife of deliveryman facing deportation pleads for his release

The wife of a pizza deliveryman who is facing deportation has made an emotional plea for his release.

Sandra Chica made the plea in a video.

She said her two young daughters miss their dad and need him to come home.

Pablo Villavicencio was detained by immigration officials on June 1 after delivering pizza to the Fort Hamilton military base in Brooklyn.

He had ignored an early deportation order and was supposed to be deported to Ecuador this week, but a federal judge granted an emergency stay.

Lawyers with the Legal Aid Society say they're hopeful he might stay permanently. 

"Nothing is easy, but I couldn't do this job if I didn't have hope and belief in our justice system, in the will of the American people," said Jennifer Williams, deputy attorney with the Legal Aid Society. "And with the amount of attention that Pablo has been getting, I really trust that ICE will do the right thing in this case."

Villavicencio is currently being held at a facility in Hudson County, New Jersey.

CBS: ‘My Daughters Need Their Dad:’ Pizza Deliveryman’s Wife Pleads For His Release From ICE Custody

The wife of a pizza deliveryman who has been in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for more than a week made an emotional plea for his release Wednesday.

“These last two weeks have been really difficult for my family since my husband was detained by ICE when he was working,” Sandra Chica said in a video shared by the Legal Aid Society. “This time without Pablo has been really painful for us, but your support has helped us to continue fighting so we can keep my family together.”

Pablo Villavicencio, an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador was arrested while delivering pizza to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn. A routine ID check revealed an outstanding warrant for deportation from 2010.

Over the weekend, a judge granted Villavincencio a temporary emergency stay, but he remains in ICE custody while he argues his case.

“I’m still heartbroken and very sad because he is detained. This is a petition for ICE to release him immediately,” Chica said. “My daughters need their dad, we miss him a lot, and we want to continue fighting so he can be again with us.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo previously sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security supporting the stay and requesting Villavicencio be released.

AMNY: Pablo Villavicencio’s wife pleads for his release from ICE detention

The wife of a deliveryman who was taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents continues to fight for his release, as the clock ticks down toward the end of an emergency stay of deportation.

Pablo Villavicencio, an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador and father of two young girls, was granted the stay of deportation on Saturday but it only lasts until July 20.

While Legal Aid Society attorneys work to keep him from being deported and obtain permanent U.S. residency, Villavicencio has remained in ICE custody at a detention facility in Hudson County, New Jersey.

In a video posted to the Legal Aid Society’s Twitter account Wednesday, Villavicencio’s wife Sandra Chica said she is relieved they are able to fight his case while he remains in the country but urged ICE to release her husband so he can be with his family.

“This time without Pablo has been really painful for us but your support has helped us to continue fighting so we can keep my family together,” she said. “My daughters need their dad. We miss him a lot and we will continue fighting so that he can be with us.”

Chica also thanked community groups and elected officials, including City Councilman Carlos Menchaca, who have offered resources in fighting against Villavicencio’s deportation.

Villavicencio was delivering pizza to Fort Hamilton in Bay Ridge on June 1 when he was asked for identification, according to a statement released by the military base. Cathy SantoPietro, a spokeswoman for Fort Hamilton, said in order to obtain a day pass, he agreed to a background check which revealed an active ICE warrant for his arrest.

Villavicencio was then held at Fort Hamilton until ICE agents arrived to take him into custody.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who also helped the family with legal services, has called for ICE to release Villavicencio, arguing that the manner in which he was detained has raised “serious legal and policy concerns.”

Villavicencio is a taxpayer who has lived in New York for over 10 years, according to Cuomo. Chica and their children are U.S. citizens.


NYT: Judge Stops Deportation of a New York Pizza Delivery Man

A federal judge in Manhattan on Saturday temporarily halted the deportation of a New York pizza delivery man at least until a court hearing on July 20.

The judge, Alison J. Nathan, of Federal District Court in New York, ruled for the plaintiff, Pablo Villavicencio Calderon, after his lawyers filed an emergency petition earlier in the day. In her order, the judge said federal officials must file court documents before the hearing to explain why a temporary preliminary injunction should not be issued in favor of Mr. Villavicencio, who is still being detained.

Judge Nathan was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2011. From 2009 to 2010, she served as special assistant to Mr. Obama and was an associate White House counsel.

Mr. Villavicencio, 35, was delivering from a pizza restaurant in Queens to an Army base in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, on June 1 when he was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents by a military police officer. A background check revealed that Mr. Villavicencio, a native of Ecuador, had an open order of removal since 2010. He was immediately taken to the Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny, N.J.

A spokeswoman for the immigration agency did not immediately reply to an email or phone message seeking comment.

In a federal lawsuit, Mr. Villavicencio’s lawyers claimed that he was a victim of racial profiling at the Army base and that the detention violated his constitutional rights. Mr. Villavicencio was in the process of applying to become a legal permanent resident, the suit said, and he has not been able to present evidence in his pending application.

On Friday, his lawyers from the Legal Aid Society of New York filed a petition with the New York field office of ICE, as the immigration agency is known, to have him released on humanitarian reasons. His wife is an American citizen, as are his two daughters, and they argued that since he was a primary provider for the family, he needed to be home. His youngest daughter, 2, has a congenital heart defect, according to the lawsuit.

But as a judgment was pending on Friday night, the situation got more urgent for his lawyers. They learned that the commissary account for Mr. Villavicencio was suddenly cleared, which is usually a precursor to immediate deportation.

“The focus was to stop him from getting removed this weekend,” Gregory P. Copeland, supervising attorney for the immigration unit of the Legal Aid Society, said. “He’s not getting removed, that’s the goal.”

The next step, Mr. Copeland said, is to get him out of detention.

This type of 11th-hour appeal to stop deportation or detention is not uncommon in immigration cases. Notably, in January, lawyers filed a petition in the Southern District to halt the deportation of the immigrant activist Ravi Ragbir. Mr. Ragbir had been detained at an ICE check-in, after fighting his deportation order for multiple years. He was sent to Miami to be deported to Trinidad and Tobago. Judge Katherine B. Forrest ruled in an impassioned decision that he should have been entitled to “the freedom to say goodbye.” Mr. Ragbir’s case is still pending.

Unlike Mr. Ragbir, who had been convicted of wire fraud in 2000, however, Mr. Villavicencio has no criminal record. A native of Ecuador, Mr. Villavicencio entered the country illegally in 2008. He was granted voluntary departure in 2010, but when he did not depart, he was labeled a fugitive by ICE.

But the swiftness of the immigration agency’s action was deeply unsettling for his wife, Sandra Chica, and their children and outraged Democratic lawmakers and officials. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York included a letter in the lawsuit supporting Mr. Villavicencio, as did Representatives Hakeem Jeffries, Kathleen Rice and Nydia M. Velázquez.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo sent a letter to the New York field director of ICE, Thomas R. Decker, in which he questioned the government’s rush to deport Mr. Villavicencio.

Mr. Cuomo said it seemed that the detention was part of a pattern targeting New York residents, presumably because of the state’s limited cooperation with immigration officials.

When A Day in Court is a Trap for Immigrants


Attorneys from our Bronx CDP and Immigration Law Unit spoke with the New Yorker about proliferating ICE courthouse arrests and the chilling effect they have on clients and other immigrants.




The New Yorker | "When a Day in Court is a Trap for Immigrants" 
By Steve Coll
November 8, 2017

On March 29th, in Pontiac, Michigan, Sergio Perez appeared in a county courtroom to seek sole custody of his son and two daughters, who were between eleven and seventeen years old. The children lived with Sergio’s estranged wife, Rose, and, he told me recently, he was concerned about them. His wife had taken out a yearlong protective order against her boyfriend in 2015, but, as far as Sergio knew, they now lived together. (Rose and the boyfriend could not be reached.) Perez said that he paid the rent on the house where his children and Rose lived, he told me, although he had fallen thousands of dollars behind on child support. (He said that he spent other money on the children directly, for example, for their clothes.) Perez ran a small contracting business near Pontiac, installing carpets. He said that he wanted “to see my daughters do well, with modern lives.” He was “never rich at all,” but he was “working fourteen, sixteen hours a day,” he told me. “I was working three customers a day.”

Rose and the three children are all United States citizens, but Perez was undocumented. He had grown up in Guadalajara, Mexico, and crossed into the United States, without authorization, when he was nineteen. During the next twenty-one years, he and his attorney, Bethany McAllister, told me, he had moved back and forth to Mexico, and he had been deported several times before. But otherwise he had never been arrested or convicted of a crime, and had received only one ticket, for driving on an expired license. Amid the anti-immigrant fever created by the Trump Administration, he feared that pressing the custody case might lead to someone informing on him to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ice, in order to have him arrested and deported to Mexico. Perez decided to go to family court anyway. He said that he wanted to show his children that “no matter how hard or difficult it might be, you have to do what you have to do, no matter what.”

In the courtroom on March 29th, he heard his name called out, and entered a side room. There were men in plain clothes; one identified himself as Anthony. “I’ve been looking for you,” he said, as Perez recalled. The man pulled out a badge. “We’re with ice.” The agents arrested Perez right there, transported him to a jail in Dearborn, and then later transferred him to a detention center in Louisiana. McAllister, Perez’s attorney, urged the ice field office in Michigan to reëxamine his case and to stay his deportation, in the interests of his children. Two attorneys from the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Michael Steinberg and Juan Caballero, also wrote to ice, noting, “This practice of obstructing non-citizens’ access to courts endangers public safety and has a chilling effect on families seeking protections from the court.” Their efforts didn’t work. ice deported Perez to Mexico City.

When I caught up with Perez recently by telephone, he was back in Guadalajara, where he was working as a waiter and a translator. He remained worried about his children, he said. He had promised McAllister that he would not cross the U.S. border again without authorization, so he was trying to find some legal way forward. “I want to go back and change my daughters’ lives,” and also his son’s, he said.

One of the most disturbing aspects of “interior enforcement” of the immigration laws—meaning arrests and detentions carried out far from the American border, typically by ice agents—is that the actions can pollute the administration of justice and undermine the rights that the Constitution affords all criminal defendants, whether they are U.S. citizens or not. Because immigration-removal proceedings are generally carried out under civil laws, they are exempt from many procedures mandated in criminal cases. For example, the warrants that ice uses to arrest unauthorized immigrants like Perez aren’t reviewed by a judge; they’re just written up by ice office supervisors. Immigrant detainees don’t have a constitutional right to a lawyer. Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure don’t always apply when ice agents investigate a target for arrest, because the cases typically don’t involve a criminal prosecution. This troubling and confusing inheritance of immigration policing has now been made worse by the Trump Administration’s expansion of arrest operations in American courthouses.

The Immigrant Defense Project, an advocacy group based in New York City, said that it had received reports of eighty-four arrests and attempted arrests in courthouses in New York this year through September, more than six hundred per cent more reports than they had received last year, including fifty-one arrests in or around New York City courthouses. Most often, ice agents target criminal defendants who may be deportable, but they have also arrested people in New York family court, juvenile court, and specialized courts devoted to the prevention of human trafficking.

According to an Immigrant Defense investigation, in April, in Suffolk County Family Court, ice arrested a Pakistani-born father who had appeared on “a visitation matter.” The father was the primary custodian of two children who were United States citizens. He himself had come to the United States as a five-year-old child, “when his family fled political persecution in Pakistan.” In June, in Queens, ice officers followed a woman who had appeared in Human Trafficking Intervention Court. The agents arrested the woman as she walked to the subway. On September 27th, ice agents arrested a victim of alleged domestic violence as he left Queens County Criminal Court.

Wendy Wayne, who directs the Immigration Impact Unit at the Massachusetts public defender’s office, told me that the surge of courthouse immigration arrests across the country, including in Massachusetts, “has a tremendously negative impact,” because “defendants are being arrested before they resolve their criminal cases and witnesses and victims are not coming to court.” During the first six months of this year, Latinos in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco reported fewer cases of domestic violence than during the same period the year before. Advocates believe that the decline reflects less a drop in the crime rate than a rising fear among undocumented victims and witnesses that, if they seek justice, they will be deported.

Some courthouse administrators, judges, and even prosecutors, such as the acting Brooklyn District Attorney, Eric Gonzales, have tried to persuade ice to back off. Earlier this year, Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, the California Chief Justice, wrote in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, now the White House chief of staff, that “courthouses serve as a vital forum for ensuring access to justice and protecting public safety.” She accused ice of “stalking courthouses.” Sessions and Kelly wrote in reply that, because sanctuary policies enacted by cities and jurisdictions in states such as California “prohibit or hinder” ice from enforcing immigration laws, they had no choice but to carry out operations in courts. They reaffirmed their policy.

During the Obama Administration, ice, through policies derived from executive orders, prevented agents from performing operations in “sensitive locations,” including houses of worship, schools, and hospitals, except in extraordinary circumstances. The Trump Administration has continued that policy, to date. Courthouses weren’t on the “sensitive locations” list, but arrests were very rare. That is what changed under Trump, Sessions, and Kelly.

Khaalid H. Walls, an ice spokesperson, acknowledged in a statement to me that the agency continues to make arrests at courthouses, but that these generally take place “only after investigating officers have exhausted other options.” He said that many of the targeted people “have prior criminal convictions, pending charges,” and/or pose “threats to public safety.” He added that “every effort is made to take the person into custody in a secure area, out of public view, but that is not always possible.” (Last August, the American Bar Association passed a resolution urging Congress to pass a law expanding the “sensitive location” policy to include courts. There are bills pending, but their chances are doubtful.)

Yet ice’s defense of its policy on public-safety grounds cannot account for the arrests in venues like family court. And the public defenders and other defense lawyers I spoke with said that they saw the courthouse arrests as largely arbitrary. They weren’t certain how ice identified targets for arrest from court dockets, especially nonpublic dockets, such as those in juvenile or family court. ice has access to many national-security and federal databases, and it may be running software to identify matches between names on court dockets and deportable individuals in its own databases. Or ice field officers may be doing that work by hand. (Walls declined to comment.) From the actual arrests, it is hard to discern a pattern. “I think, in my most cynical moments, that maybe that’s the point—that it is random, to cultivate this widespread fear that nobody is safe,” Casey Dalporto, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society in the Bronx, who specializes in immigration law, said.

With a colleague of Dalporto’s, William Woods, I walked around the Bronx criminal courthouse on a recent weekday morning, looking for indications that ice agents were present. The courthouse is a glass-fronted behemoth just down East 161st Street from Yankee Stadium. Woods said that one difficulty in protecting clients from the surge is that ice officers often pop up in a courtroom suddenly, dressed in plain clothes, and act before defense attorneys can reach the scene to advise their clients or advocate for alternatives to immediate arrest. Legal Aid and other public defenders are working on developing a rapid-response communications system that would allow lawyers to quickly sort out false ice sightings in courthouses, which are becoming more commonplace amid the spreading fear, and to zero in on accurate sightings, in order to more quickly mobilize lawyers.

Before he became a supervising attorney a few years ago, Woods, a lanky man who grew up in Mount Vernon, handled as many as a hundred and thirty criminal cases at a time in the Bronx system. In the course of more than six years, he recalled, ice turned up at the courthouse to detain one of his clients perhaps twice. Now his lawyers are regularly distracted by the appearance of ice officers. In August, Woods was called to a courtroom where a Legal Aid client was “looking at ice custody and probably deportation.” The lawyers asked the judge to set bail at a thousand dollars, which they advised their client not to post. The judge agreed—he was upset with ice, too. “Talk about up is down and down is up—you have defense attorneys asking to have their clients put into jail,” for their own protection, Woods told me.

“Even victims of crime are not going to turn up because of ice’spresence,” he said. “Court is already a scary place, especially if it’s your first time in the system. You add onto that, ‘I might not go back to my family tonight’ . . . It injects something into the criminal-justice system” that was not previously a factor.

In New York City, some of the defense lawyers I spoke with expressed frustration with the state’s Office of Court Administration, which is directed on a day-to-day basis by Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks. They argued that Marks has not been forceful enough with ice, and that agents have violated courthouse rules, such as requirements that they identify themselves to administrators.

Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for Marks, told me that the number of arrests or attempted arrests that ice has carried out in city courthouses this year, numbering in the dozens, was a tiny fraction of the more than a million and a half total appearances in criminal courts so far. The court administrator is meant to be a neutral party, responsive to law enforcement and also to judges and defense lawyers. In private, Marks has conveyed to ice and other federal officials “serious concerns about ice activity at certain locations, such as Family Court and Human Trafficking Court.”

It seems unsatisfying to draw fine distinctions about access to justice. The ideas behind rights and the rule of law presume universality. Yet if ice’s courthouse operations spared fathers seeking custody and visibly prioritized, say, convicted felons who could not otherwise be apprehended safely, the agency might not have called so much attention to itself. The reality seems to be that ice is operating in courthouses in an unrestrained way because it is internalizing a sense of impunity, its expansive policies encouraged by Sessions and Kelly, and viscerally backed by Donald Trump’s nativist rhetoric and policies.

I asked Sergio Perez how he processed, from Guadalajara, what had happened to him and his children. He emphasized his own responsibility. He and his estranged wife had applied for legal status a decade ago, but the paperwork never advanced. He said he was “one hundred per cent sure” that ice was going to arrest him when he went to court, but he went anyway, to try to get the kids out of the home they were in. “I don’t hate the system,” he told me. “I don’t think there are racist people in your country, to be honest. I was working all the time with customers. Everyone treated me with respect. The American people, the white people, whatever you want to call them, they looked at me as a hardworking person.” He added, “I believe in God, you know. I believe that to win something, you have to lose something.”

A previous version of this piece misstated that ice agents arrested Sergio Perez.

Alejandra Ibarra Chaoul, a postgraduate researcher at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, contributed reporting for this story.