Feds drop deportation case against pizza delivery man detained at Fort Hamilton

Special delivery: Judge stops deportation of undocumented pizza delivery man and demands his release from jail
Photo by Trey Pentecost

He’s in the clear.

The Feds dropped their case to deport undocumented immigrant and former pizza delivery man Pablo Villavicencio on Oct. 5, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York confirmed.

A spokesman from the Legal Aid Society said its lawyers cheered government’s decision to drop its case against Villavicencio, whom they took on as a client after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detained him when he made a pizza delivery to Fort Hamilton Army Base in June. The spokesman added that the Legal Aid Society would continue to represent Villavicencio — along with lawyers from a private firm, Debevoise and Plimpton LLP — in order to secure his legal right to stay in the U.S.

“We are glad that the federal government fully withdrew their challenge to Mr. Villavicencio’s hard-won release from immigration detention and his opportunity to pursue lawful status,” the Legal Aid spokesman said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office originally filed an Oct. 2 appeal challenging U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty’s July decision releasing Villavicencio from detention and staying his deportation to his native Ecuador, according to the New York Law Journal. But just three days later, the Feds withdrew the appeal for unknown reasons.

Villavicencio’s case received national media attention after Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers detained him while he was delivering food to Fort Hamilton Army Base on June 1, with critics charging that Villavicencio’s detention was the result of ethnic profiling.

A spokeswoman for the base claimed that Villavicencio lacked the proper military identification to enter it, prompting a background check and the subsequent discovery of an active warrant from the federal immigration agency, which it issued after Villavicencio failed to leave the country by July 2010, as ordered by a judge.

After he was detained, Villavicencio — whose wife and two daughters are U.S. citizens — spent 53 days at the Hudson County Correctional Facility in New Jersey until Judge Crotty ordered his release on July 24.

Gov. Cuomo weighed in on Villavicencio’s case on Oct. 5, saying that the government’s change of heart proved the delivery man did not deserve to be detained, and that he was targeted due to his immigration status.

“By dropping its appeal of a court order freeing Pablo Villavicencio, the federal government is admitting what we already knew — that there was absolutely no legitimate reason to lock him up and take him away from his family,” Cuomo said. “ICE’s arrest of Mr. Villavicencio while he was doing his job was an outrageous affront to our New York values and raised serious concerns of ethnic profiling.”

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