Detained on arrival: Locals protest arrest of undocumented pizza deliveryman at Fort Hamilton Army Base

Detained on arrival: Locals protest arrest of undocumented pizza deliveryman at Fort Hamilton Army Base
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

The federal government must release an undocumented immigrant who Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers detained while he made a routine pizza delivery to Fort Hamilton Army Base on June 1, demanded protesters gathered just across the street at John Paul Jones Park in Bay Ridge on June 6.

Councilman Justin Brannan (D–Bay Ridge) called the incident a real-world, close-to-home example of the fallout of President Trump’s anti-immigrant policies.

“He came all the way out here to deliver pizza, time and time and time again. This time, there was a problem. No idea why,” Brannan said. “This is no longer on TV, it’s now in our backyard. This arbitrary enforcement, the unequal enforcement of laws is what divides people. How does taking a pizza delivery guy off the street make us any safer? It’s ridiculous.”

The incident, first reported by Spanish newspaper El Diario on June 4, immediately attracted national attention after Pablo Villavicencio Calderon’s family and local officials charged that he was unfairly targeted and detained due to his immigration status.

At the Wednesday protest, locals chanted “Free Pablo, Abolish ICE” and “No Hate, No Fear, Immigrants Are Welcome Here” and held up empty pizza boxes emblazoned with slogans such as “Pizza Not Persecution” and “Pineapple And ICE Agents Don’t Belong On Pizza.” After the rally, they marched up Fourth Avenue, turned onto 86th Street, and looped up Fifth Avenue, where six protesters were arrested near 87th Street for blocking traffic.

Calderon delivered pies to the Army base — where he had delivered pizza about once a month in the past — from Nonna Delia’s in Flushing, Queens on June 1 at around 11 am, according to a spokeswoman for the base.

When he allegedly lacked the proper military identification required for entry to the base, personnel at the base’s Visitor Control Center ran a customary background check in order to grant him a temporary pass, at which point, the spokeswoman said they discovered an active warrant on file from the federal immigration agency, prompting base personnel to turn him over to the federal agency, according to the spokeswoman, who said personnel followed proper protocol.

“Department of Defense installation commanders are authorized to take reasonably necessary and lawful measures to maintain law and order and protect installation personnel and property,” said Cathy Santopietro. “This enables the Fort Hamilton Commander to enforce a safe and secure working environment suitable for all.”

But Calderon’s wife Sandra Chica — a U.S. citizen — said that he displayed the same city identification card that he had used to get into the base in the past, and that he had applied for a green card in February. She added that he lacked a driver’s license — which she called a “mistake” — and that he will likely be deported to Ecuador sometime next week, according to the New York Times.

A spokeswoman from the immigration agency said privacy concerns prevented her confirming whether or not Calderon had filed a green card application, but said that a green card application would not affect whether or not he would be deported. She said that in March 2010 an immigration judge ordered Calderon to leave the country, but when he failed to leave by the July deadline, he was classified as a “fugitive.” The agency will now hold him until he is deported, she said.

“He remains in ICE custody pending removal,” said Rachael Yong Yow.

Brannan said the base’s claim that Calderon lacked the proper identification was without precedent and would constitute a policy change that would impact every delivery person coming to the base.

“We want to get to the bottom of what is allowed to happen on an army base,” he said. “If they’re saying that every delivery person has to have a Department of Defense ID, they’re not going to get any deliveries. If that’s what they’re saying now, this changes everything. It seems like arbitrary enforcement.”

Gov. Cuomo secured a lawyer for Calderon and spoke with his wife on the morning of June 7, telling her he would do “anything we can do to help,” according to his spokeswoman.

Mayor DeBlasio called for Calderon’s release soon after, insisting that he had been unfairly detained.

“Delivering a pizza is not a threat to public safety,” the mayor wrote on Twitter.

But both state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) and Rep. Dan Donovan (R–Bay Ridge) — neither of whom attended the protest — insisted that personnel at the base behaved appropriately.

Golden said base personnel did what they were supposed to do in a “security incident.”

“I would expect nothing less from the Fort Hamilton Commander and its dedicated personnel who have committed their lives to protecting our citizens and country,” he wrote.

Donovan — who is taking heat over a controversial anti-immigrant mailer — went further, calling protests against the incident partisan “insanity,” and saying that personnel enforced the law.

“Liberal activists are attacking ICE agents and military personnel for following the law in detaining an immigrant reportedly here illegally,” he said.

The manager at Nonna Delia’s, the Queens pizza shop where Calderon was employed, said that Calderon’s family was suffering and that he didn’t deserve to be detained.

“He’s a great worker, good man, good family guy. Pray for the family, that’s all I can say,” said the manager, who declined to give his name.

Employees from two separate Bay Ridge pizza shops said they would refuse to deliver to the base in the future because of the identification requirements. One local pizza shop employee, who declined to be named, said the base used to order from them but no longer did, but that they wouldn’t take orders from the base in the future.

“We used to [deliver there], but we don’t anymore,” said the employee at Bari’s Pizza, on Fourth Avenue between 86th and 87th streets. “We wouldn’t go now.”

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.