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

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

A judge stayed the deportation of undocumented immigrant Pablo Villavicencio-Calderon and demanded he be immediately released from detention on July 24, nearly two months after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detained the pizza delivery man at Fort Hamilton Army Base on June 1.

U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty wrote that even though Pablo Villavicencio-Calderon was in the country illegally, he had always abided by the law and consequently deserved to be reunited with his family.

“Although he stayed in the United States unlawfully and is currently subject to a final order of removal, he has otherwise been a model citizen,” Crotty worte. “He has no criminal history. He has paid his taxes. And he has worked diligently to provide for his family.”

Crotty also noted that Villavicencio-Calderon’s freedom will allow him the chance to resume the paperwork process he began in February to regularize his immigration status. And the decision stipulates that the only way Villavicencio-Calderon can be deported in the future is if the Citizenship and Immigration Services agency denies any of his three applications, or if Villavicencio-Calderon commits a crime after his papers were approved.

Democratic pols reacted to the news with delight. Gov. Cuomo called Villavicencio-Calderon’s release “a victory for New Yorkers and for basic human rights,” but said that the delivery man should have never been detained in the first place.

“There was absolutely no legitimate reason to lock up Mr. Villavicencio and take him from his wife and children, and I am relieved that he will finally be reunited with his family,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Local pols Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D–Sunset Park), Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D–Sunset Park), and Councilman Justin Brannan (D–Bay Ridge) also chimed in to celebrate the judge’s decision.

Earlier in the day, lawyers representing the federal government and Villavicencio-Calderon sparred at a hearing before Crotty in Manhattan Federal Court over whether or not he should remain detained at Hudson County Correctional Facility in New Jersey.

The chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Immigration Unit, Joe Cordaro, argued that Villavicencio-Calderon should remain detained since he overstayed a 2010 voluntary deportation order and consequently had an active arrest warrant on file.

But Villavicencio-Calderon’s lawyers from the Legal Aid Society, Gregory Copeland and Sarah Gillman, insisted that he should be released from detention so that he can be with his family and resume his immigration application, adding that they had just received word that the government had scheduled the delivery man’s first interview in the immigration process for Aug. 21 after his wife — a U.S. citizen — filed initial paperwork back in Feburary.

But most of the courtroom’s charged back-and-forth occurred between Crotty and Cordaro, as the judge slammed him with questions about the legal basis of Villavicencio-Calderon’s detention, asking how the Feds justified keeping the delivery man locked up and away from his family when he had no criminal record.

“Why is he being detained? Is he a threat to the communty?” Crotty asked. “What is the danger to the community for a man who’s committed no crimes?”

But Cordaro replied that the federal government didn’t take Villavicencio-Calderon’s lack of a criminal past into account when they decided to detain him.

“That’s not really the analysis that the Department of Homeland Security uses,” Cordaro said.

Crotty demanded a better answer.

“What do they use?” he asked.

Cordaro said he could not answer that question on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security.

Later, the judge asked the lawyer if the case mattered in the grand scheme of things and if the government was really handling Villavicencio-Calderon’s case with justice in mind.

“What difference does this make in terms of the larger issues facing the country?” Crotty asked. “Is there any concept of justice here?”

Cordaro replied by reminding Crotty that Villavicencio-Calderon overstayed a voluntary deportation order, but Crotty quipped that that infraction amounted to human error — and one that didn’t justify ripping the delivery man away from his family forever.

“He made a mistake,” the judge said.

The courthouse’s overflow room, where a few dozen spectators and protesters had gathered to watch the proceedings, erupted in applause and cheers at Crotty’s apparent defense of Villavicencio-Calderon.

But then Crotty pushed the delivery man’s defense team to explain why he had remained undocumented for so long.

“What took him so long?” Crotty asked. “He was here for almost 10 years before he started the immigration process.”

Villavicencio-Calderon’s lawyers replied that he had to “overcome hurdles” with the logistics of filing the lengthy paperwork and may have been worried about the “danger” involved with revealing his undocumented status.

The lawyers also fought about where the case should be litigated, with Cordaro arguing that proceedings should be held in New Jersey and that it has jurisdiction over the case since that is where Villavicencio-Calderon is detained. But Copeland and Gillman insisted that it would be more convenient for Villavicencio-Calderon’s family and everyone involved — including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose officers are across the street from the courthouse — for the proceedings to take place in Manhattan.

Again, Crotty sided with Villavicencio-Calderon, ruling that the case would be heard in New York.

Villavicencio-Calderon’s wife Sandra Chica sat in the front row of the courtroom with the couple’s two young daughters during the proceedings. After the hearing and before Crotty released his decision, Chica told this paper that she was not surprised that the judge’s questions seemed to point towards the judge ruling to reunite Villavicencio-Calderon with his family, and that his comments helped her remain hopeful that her husband would soon be released.

“I wasn’t surprised, I think he asked the right questions and hopefully he makes a good decision,” Chica said.

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