New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday offered free legal aid to an undocumented man who was detained by immigration agents while delivering pizza at a Brooklyn Army base last week.
Cuomo has assured Pablo Villavicencio’s wife, Sandra Chica, that he will have legal counsel.
“I just spoke with Sandra Chica & expressed my deep frustration with the federal government’s assault on NY’s immigrant families. Sandra spoke to me as a mother—worried for her husband and her children. As a father of three, I can’t imagine the fear she and Pablo are feeling now,” Cuomo tweeted.
“I had one message for her: Anything we can do to help, we will do. I confirmed with her that New York State, working with our partners, has secured pro-bono legal counsel to represent Mr. Villavicencio," he added in a separate tweet.
On June 1, 35-year-old Villavicencio arrived at the Fort Hamilton base in Brooklyn to deliver an order from the brick-oven pizza restaurant in Queens where he worked. He showed his New York City identification card to the guard as he had done several times before, but it wasn't enough this time, his wife says.
Villavicencio, an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador, didn't have a "valid Department of Defense identification" and was asked to get a daily visitors pass, Fort Hamilton said in a statement.
He ended up "signing a waiver permitting a background check," which revealed there was an active warrant for Villavicencio's deportation and prompted military police to call immigration agents, the base and Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.
Earlier this week, Villavicencio spoke to KTLA sister station WPIX in New York from an ICE detention center in New Jersey.
"They treated me like a criminal. I did not commit a crime,” he said in Spanish.
“My daughters need me,” he added. “My wife needs me."
His family said Villavicencio could be deported as early as next week.
“In one day your life changed,” Chica told WPIX. “Now, I’m alone with two kids.”
Though he has no criminal record, Villavicencio did come to the U.S. illegally from Ecuador in 2008.
In 2010, according to ICE, he was granted voluntary departure. He was ordered to leave the country by July of that year. He never did. His wife, a U.S. citizen, said they filed a petition challenging that order.
The couple married five years ago and this year Villavicencio applied for his green card.
“Every time he called, he’s just crying asking me about them,” his wife said. "He’s very worried what’s going to happen with us.”
In a statement to WPIX, ICE said:
"Pablo Villavicencio-Calderon is an illegally present citizen and national of Ecuador. In March 2010, he was granted voluntary departure by an immigration judge, but failed to depart by July 2010 as ordered. As such, his voluntary departure order became a final order of removal and is an ICE fugitive. On June 1, Villavicencio-Calderon was detained by military police officers and turned over to ICE. He remains in ICE custody pending removal."
New York City leaders said Villavicencio’s detainment doesn’t make sense.
"Tell me how this is American. Tell me how taking Pablo off the street makes our nation safer. I'm listening,” New York City Councilman Justin Brannan said.
Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams echoed that sentiment.
Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, called it “absolutely disgusting.”
"Immigrant New Yorkers like Pablo Villavicencio provide for their families by working hard and making sacrifices, they shouldn’t be ripped from their communities and their crying children for pursuing the ever dimmer American dream,” he said.
State Sen. Martin J. Golden commended the authorities who took Villavicencio into custody.
“As a result of military police action at the Fort Hamilton Army Base, in accordance with the Department of Army Access Control standards for all visitors, an individual with a warrant was identified upon seeking entrance to the Fort," said Golden, a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs.
"Consequently, the proper authorities were alerted and the individual was taken into custody. 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."
A GoFundMe has been set up for the family.