The family of a 35-year-old pizza delivery man, who was arrested by U.S. Army officials while making a routine delivery to a military base in Brooklyn Friday, is demanding answers about what happened.
Pablo Villavicencio, who lived in Hempstead, Long Island with his wife, Sandra Chica, and their two daughters, has been in federal immigration custody since Friday. In a press conference Wednesday, flanked by Brooklyn officials, Chica said Villavicencio expects to be deported back to his home country of Ecuador next week after living for 10 years in the U.S.
“Every day it was a risk for him,” Chica said. “I used to tell him, but he said. ‘I need to work, I can't be at home scared.’ He's a good person.”
Villavicencio was working as a pizza delivery man for Nonna Delia's pizzeria in Queens when he took an order of pizzas to the Fort Hamilton military base in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn Friday around 11 a.m., according to the Ft. Hamilton public information office. Chica said he showed the officers his city identification card, as he usually did when he delivered pizzas there. But because the ID was not a Department of Defense ID, the officers directed Villavicencio to obtain a day pass from the visitors office.
While he was waiting, the military officers discovered he had an active Immigration and Customs Enforcement warrant dating back to 2010, when an immigration judge ordered him to leave the country. The officers detained Villavicencio on the base and called ICE, which picked him up and took him to a holding center in Manhattan. He was later transferred to an ICE facility in New Jersey.
“On June 1, Villavicencio-Calderon was detained by military police officers and turned over to ICE,” an ICE spokesperson said. “He remains in ICE custody pending removal.”
In a statement, Ft. Hamilton public affairs officer Santo Pietro said calling ICE was a "reasonably necessary" action to maintain a safe working environment at the base.
“DOD installation commanders are authorized to take reasonably necessary and lawful measures to maintain law and order and protect installation personnel and property,” Ft. Hamilton public affairs officer Santo Pietro in a statement to Vice News. “This enables the Fort Hamilton Commander to enforce a safe and secure working environment suitable for all.”
In a statement, the office of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio disputed that assertion.
“Overbroad enforcement against immigrant New Yorkers does nothing to make us safer. We are disturbed by these reports and looking into this situation," the statement read.
An Army official called Chica after the arrest and told her to come pick up Villavicencio’s car. The officers kept the pizza.
Villavicencio’s boss at the pizzeria declined to answer questions, but said Villavicencio was “a great guy.”
“Why did they refuse his ID when he showed them many times before?” Chica said. “It can't be possible that they take away the father of two babies because he doesn't have an ID.”
Villavicencio and Chica were married five years ago, Chica said, and their girls are four and three years old.
Chica is a U.S. citizen, and she said the couple turned in an application for Villavicencio’s green card through their marriage in February but hadn’t heard back yet. Under previous administrations, ICE delayed deportation and allowed longtime residents to pursue legal status through marriage despite a removal order if they had that option. Under President Donald Trump, the number of removal cases closed by ICE lawyers’ request has plummeted.
City councilman Justin Brannan said Villavicencio’s arrest at the Army base indicates a change in immigration enforcement policy.
“The Army base is supposed to be a place of safety,” Brannan said. “For Pablo it was anything but. It's disgusting and heinous.”