The family and attorneys of an undocumented immigrant who is facing deportation after he was detained while delivering pizza to a military base in Brooklyn submitted a formal request to immigration officials Monday demanding his immediate release.
Attorneys from the Legal Aid Society, accompanied by Pablo Villavicencio's wife and two small daughters, said at a news conference that they filed the petition Monday.
The request argues that Villavicencio's detention causes significant emotional and financial hardship to his U.S. citizen wife and daughters and that the immigrant has no criminal history and is not a threat to public safety.
Jennifer Williams, deputy attorney in charge of the immigration law unit at the Legal Aid Society, also said that her client's detention is "unwarranted" until the circumstances surrounding his arrest are clear.
Villavicencio, a 35-year-old native of Ecuador, was arrested June 1 while making a delivery to the garrison in Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn. A routine background check revealed there was a warrant for his arrest for immigration law violations.
A federal judge temporarily blocked the deportation of Villavicencio, but he will remain in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in New Jersey until his case goes to court.
On Monday, Villavicencio's wife, Sandra Chica, stood next to his two daughters, ages 2 and 3, and pleaded for the release of her husband.
"Let him go back to his daughters and me," she said in front of the cameras. "Every day my daughters ask, 'Why is daddy not with us?' I demand ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to do the right thing."
The 3-year-old girl, Luciana Villavicencio, spoke at the news conference, saying: "Daddy, I hope that angels take care of you and that you are well and that nothing bad happens over there."
An ICE spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
City Council speaker Corey Johnson described Villavicencio's arrest as a "grave injustice."
"I am outraged, outraged, that the reason [daughters] Luciana and Antonia are feeling this loss is because of our government," Johnson said. "As an American, my heart breaks."
An ICE spokesperson has said that in March 2010 Villavicencio was granted voluntary departure by an immigration judge but failed to depart by July, as ordered.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has offered the deliveryman and his family free legal help.
Villavicencio was delivering pizza to the Fort Hamilton Army base, as he had many times before, when military police at the base asked for identification.
Villavicencio showed a New York City identification card, also known as IDNYC, as he had done during previous deliveries. This time, however, they rejected it.
The military police directed Villavicencio to get a day pass. The Army said he signed a waiver okaying a background check, and an active Immigration and Customs Enforcement warrant was discovered.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said the military police officers at the base then detained Villavicencio and turned him over to federal immigration officials.
Villavicencio came to the U.S. a decade ago. He got married to Sandra Chica, a U.S. citizen, eight years ago and had filed an application for citizenship.
Sandra Chica said she has no other family in New York. She has set up a GoFundMe page for support for the couple's daughters.
Cuomo has asked federal homeland security officials to look into the case, saying recent detentions raise significant legal questions.