Pablo Villavicencio, a pizza delivery man from Ecuador, had lived in the United States for a decade when he was detained by immigration officials during a routine delivery to a Brooklyn army base earlier this month. Now, the owner of another nearby restaurant says he’ll personally handle his restaurant’s deliveries to the base himself.
“I cannot turn my back on anybody, but in a case like that I won’t throw anybody in danger,” said Ramy Rashad, owner of the Fuel Fever Grill and Juice Bar, an eatery about a 15-minute drive from the Fort Hamilton military base in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bay Ridge. “Whatever happens to me, happens to me. Luckily for me, I’m an American citizen.”
Villavicencio had delivered orders to the base before, using his city identification, but when he arrived with an order on June 1, U.S. Army officials ran a background check and discovered that an immigration judge had ordered him to leave the United States in 2010. They then contacted ICE officials and held Villavicencio until ICE showed up and took him away.
They kept the pizza.
Rashad, who said he’s originally from Egypt, said immigrants like Villavicencio leave behind their country and their family because they want to make their life better for their loved ones. Villavicencio’s wife, Sandra Chica, is a U.S. citizen, as are their two young daughters. At a press conference Wednesday, Chica said that the couple had turned in an application for a green card for Villavicencio in February.
Past presidential administrations let longtime residents trying to legalize their immigration status through marriage to remain in the United States, even if they had a removal order. But the Trump administration is taking a hard-line approach.
“Pablo is the bedrock of our family, and our children and I would be lost without him. It is outrageous that he could be taken from us like this,” Chica said in a statement.
“He has kids and a wife. It’s sad,” Rashad said. “The guy wasn’t doing anything wrong. The guy was delivering for a tip. For only a tip. For only $2.”
Rashad’s views, however, may be the outlier in Bay Ridge: VICE News contacted 14 restaurants in the area surrounding the Fort Hamilton base, and Rashad was the only worker who said the incident with Villavicencio was worrisome. However, several other restaurants have already stopped delivering to the base in recent months, since getting past the gate guards can take so long. (In fact, Rashad sometimes delivers to the base already, because it’s so inconvenient for his employees.)
A federal judge in Manhattan halted Villavicencio’s deportation on Saturday, after his lawyers filed an emergency petition in order to keep in him in the country. Villavicencio, who has no criminal record, will now remain in the United States until at least July 20, when he has a court hearing. Democratic lawmakers have also been lobbying on his behalf.
“They’re doing their jobs,” Rashad said of the officers at the base. “But to go to that limit, I think, is out of control.”
Cover image: A couple exits the Fort Hamilton military base in Brooklyn on June 7, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)