New York City rallies behind Pablo against ICE

June 13, 2018

Nikki Blazek and Paul DeMuro report from New York City on ICE’s detention of a Brooklyn father for doing his job — and the impact of the public outcry that followed.

IN A rare victory for undocumented immigrants during the Trump era, a judge has granted an emergency stay of deportation for Pablo Villavicencio, the Brooklyn man arrested and detained by Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) last week after delivering a pizza to a military base here.

The court decision came after New Yorkers staged several actions to respond to this latest atrocity in ICE’s cruel and ongoing abuses of power in the service of Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ intensified war on undocumented immigrants.

The judge’s order grants temporary protection to Villavicencio, who will remain detained while he waits for the opportunity to argue that his open application for permanent residency should be granted.

“This decision is...a reminder that the judiciary can still serve as a powerful check when other branches of government make hasty, cruel and reckless decisions,” Gregory Copeland, an immigration attorney with the Legal Aid Society — which has led the way in organizing ICE-out-of-the-courthouse rallies, said at a press conference.

Supporters rally against the detention of Pablo Villavicencio in New York City
Supporters rally against the detention of Pablo Villavicencio in New York City (MPower Change | Twitter)

On June 1, ICE detained the 32-year-old pizzeria worker — an Ecuadoran man and father of two U.S.-born children who lives in a supposed “sanctuary city” — after guards at Fort Hamilton Army Base, where he was delivering a pizza, questioned him about his immigration status.

When Villavicencio, who has delivered food to the base in the past, handed over his New York City identification card, he was asked to provide his immigration documents. When he couldn’t, the guards made a call and ultimately turned him over to ICE.

In a press conference, Villavicencio’s wife, Sanda Chica, herself a naturalized citizen, expressed feelings of hopelessness:

A lawyer told me yesterday that there’s nothing she can do, that he is going to be deported. But the main concern here is: Since when is work and coming to a military base to bring food illegal? That is my point. Why did they refuse his ID when he showed it many times before?...They wanted to separate the father of two babies because he didn’t have a document.

Now I am going to be by myself, alone with two kids. I heard that he was going to be deported next week, and I just want to ask for help — anyone who can do something for us, especially for Pablo, who is in a bad situation now.


FORTUNATELY, public condemnation of the unprecedented circumstances of Villavicencio’s detention — including the collaboration between ICE and the U.S. military, and the fact that the guards rejected a municipal identification card, which were created precisely to protect vulnerable immigrant populations — led to swift action and protest.

What you can do

Show your support for Pablo Villavicencio by signing a petition demanding an end to any deportation proceedings involving him, the establishment of sanctuary policies at Fort Hamilton Army base and further sanctuary policies in New York City as a hole.

You can also sign a second petition demanding Pablo’s release that is being circulated by the Legal Aid Society.

Donate to help support Pablo’s family at this GoFundMe page.

Residents of South Brooklyn participated in a rapid-response rally to demand Villavicencio’s release. Seven people were arrested while in a human chain formation as they tried to block traffic in the busy 5th Avenue retail district.

Among the arrestees was Bay Ridge for Social Justice organizer Genna Goldsobel, who said in an interview:

Our immigration system and agencies are inherently broken, dehumanizing, and racist. We are willing to put our bodies on the line to protect our immigrant neighbors. Our community in Bay Ridge is diverse, powerful and resilient, yet it has been continuously targeted because of our large immigrant population. We will not let ICE pluck our neighbors away. We will fight and scream for all immigrants to be protected, and to take ICE out of Bay Ridge, NYC and the U.S.

The interruption brought spectators out from the neighborhood and was followed by a “people’s mic” led by Carlos Jesus, president of Young Progressives of America. People from across the city and representing different neighborhoods also spoke out about injustice and strategies to fight back.

One priority is to keep attention on Villavicencio’s case in order to put public pressure on elected officials.

Members of several organizations, including the New York Immigration Coalition, New Sanctuary Coalition, Resist the Deportation Machine Network and Youth Internationalist Association, regrouped at a rally outside of the Varick Street immigration court in Manhattan, where Villavicencio’s wife was told to bring Pablo’s suitcase and passport. There was another protest over the weekend outside the New Jersey prison where Pablo is currently detained.

At both rallies, activists demanded an end to deportations. New York City Council member Carlos Menchaca announced his office would provide legal support for the Villavicencio family, and attorneys from the Legal Aid Society filed an emergency stay request with the Board of Immigration Appeals.


ALTHOUGH JUDGE Alison Nathan’s ruling over the weekend averts the imminent threat of deportation for Villavicencio, his case draws attention to the many injustices of the U.S. immigration system.

Despite having a clear and ordinary path to legal permanent residency — being married to a U.S. citizen and having U.S.-born children — Villavicencio will remain detained in a system that offers financial incentives for keeping him imprisoned.

A 2009 law called the Detention Bed Mandate requires that ICE maintain a certain occupancy — 34,000 detainees — at the facilities with which it contracts, in order to receive federal funding. Because these guaranteed minimums require payment whether beds are filled or not, ICE faces considerable pressure to meet the guarantee.

For-profit prison corporations currently manage more than 60 percent of the country’s 200 immigrant detention centers. County-operated correctional facilities, like the one where Villavicencio is currently being held, are also under contract to act as detention centers.

These laws and policies — combined with the broad and dangerous Trump-era expansion of immigration enforcement officers’ discretion in who to arrest and detain — account for a world where a man can be arrested for simply doing his job and providing for his family.

Currently, Bay Ridge for Social Justice is circulating a petition to demand the following from Mayor Bill de Blasio, ICE and Fort Hamilton Army Base:

The release of Pablo Villavicencio from immigration detention and the termination of any deportation proceedings involving him.

The establishment of sanctuary policies at Fort Hamilton Army base to protect undocumented immigrants visiting, living or working at the army base. These new standards should, at minimum, prohibit the interrogation of any visitors’ immigration status and codify an absolute policy of non-collaboration with immigration enforcement authorities.

The enhancement of NYC sanctuary city practices which failed to protect Pablo and thousands of others. New policies should protect undocumented immigrant workers from harassment and profiling in the workplace. That is the very least deserved by immigrant workers who contribute over $1 billion in New York taxes every year and add $40 billion to New York’s annual economic output.

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A second petition demanding Villavicencio’s release is also being circulated by the Legal Aid Society, which aims to present the signatures to New York City ICE field office director Thomas R. Decker. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help support Villavincencio’s family while he remains in detention.

In addition to calling for no more deportations, immigrant rights activists must call for an end to policies that prop up the immigrant detention industry. This includes demanding the abolition of lockup quotas for immigrants, more transparent data reporting on private contracting practices, and an end to government contracts with private companies who lobby for guaranteed minimums and contractual giveaways.

Lea Ramirez and Karl Schwartz contributed to this article.

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