A pair of politicians descended upon the Fort Hamilton Army Base with a bevy of media outlets on Wednesday, June 6 to demand answers as to why Pablo Villavicencio was detained and turned over to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials for attempting to deliver a pizza to the base.
On June 1, Villavicencio, 35, was making a delivery to the Bay Ridge base on behalf of the Queens pizzeria he worked for – something, officials say, he’d done before – when, at the gate (where all visitors are asked for identification, and where Villavicencio typically gained entrance with his IDNYC), the deliveryman was pressed for papers detailing his immigration status.
With no papers, Villavicencio – a husband and father of two young girls – was then detained by military police on the base, and turned over to ICE. He is now being held in New Jersey, where he awaits deportation.
“This wasn’t the first time the base had ordered from this Queens pizzeria,” said Councilmember Justin Brannan Wednesday, adding also that the base “must have had an existing relationship with this pizzeria since we’ve got about 5,000 pizzerias just a few blocks from where we are.
“He’s never had a problem entering the Army base before,” the pol went on, stressing Villavicencio’s repeated use of his IDNYC card — a free form of municipal identification open to all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status. “He used his NYCID this time as well, but something changed. Something happened.”
He and Borough President Eric Adams want to know what.
“Does the Army now have some sort of new policy…. Is this a new Donald Trump deportation strategy? That is what we need to know,” Brannan said, asking also why Villavicencio was singled out. “Why was this time any different?”
“It is unimaginable that [this man] went from delivery to deportation…from pizza to prison,” said Adams, adding that the American dreams of his daughters – Luciana, 3, and Antonia, 2 – has been shattered. “And not because he did something hurtful. Because he delivered a pizza.”
Brannan and Adams were joined by Sandra Chica, Villavicencio’s wife. Villavicencio met and married Chica, an American citizen, five years ago. In February, the pair began to apply for the deliveryman’s residency status.
According to Chica, her husband had been in the country for 10 years and was a “good man.”
“It’s cruel that they would separate a man from his family,” his wife told reporters, stressing that, with Villavicencio detained, she is all alone. “This is not right. He’s never been in trouble.”
However, ICE officials told this paper that Villavicencio, of Ecuador, was granted voluntary departure by an immigration judge in March of 2010 but failed to depart by his July, 2010 deadline. “As such, his voluntary departure order became a final order of removal and [he] is an ICE fugitive.”
Still, officials maintained at the presser, people like Villavicencio shouldn’t have to live in fear, especially of places like the Army base which, Brannan and Adams agreed, should be a “safe space” for all.
“Is our city, state and nation any safer today because Pablo is off the street?” asked Brannan. “Is our city, state and nation any safer today because they took a pizza delivery guy off the street?”
If Villavicencio is deported at the end of next week (the last timeline Chica has been given), she said, Luciana’s fourth birthday on June 20 will be the first of many milestones her husband will miss.
“I hope she can be with her father that day,” she said.
When asked if she’d heard from her husband, Chica said yes, and that right now “he’s just worried about his babies.”
Also present at the presser were Murad Awawdeh, director of political engagement at the New York Immigration Coalition, who called Villavicencio’s arrest “absolutely disgusting” and 17-year-old Alex Pellitteri, a local activist and new addition to Community Board 10. Pellitteri, who ranks among the board’s youngest participants, took to the podium to promote a coinciding protest to be hosted later in the evening by Bay Ridge for Social Justice.
“It was all right to take his pizza but it was also all right to put him in prison,” Adams added to Brannan’s repeated point: “I don’t know who we can trust anymore.
“We’ve always had a very good relationship with the Fort Hamilton Army Base; they’re a very vital part of our community,” he stressed. “That said, it’s very troubling that we had to learn about this while reading El Diario.”
Contacted for comment, officials at Fort Hamilton released the following statement: “On June 1, 2018, at approximately 11 a.m., an individual attempted to gain access to Fort Hamilton to make a delivery without valid Department of Defense (DOD) identification. The person was directed to the Visitor Control Center to obtain a daily pass. Upon signing a waiver permitting a background check, Department of the Army Access Control standard for all visitors, an active Immigration and Customs Enforcement warrant was discovered on file. This prompted the Department of Emergency Services (DES) personnel to contact the proper authorities, and transport the individual to DES for further processing, and released to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. DOD installation commanders are authorized to take reasonably necessary and lawful measures to maintain law and order and protect installation personnel and property. This enables the Fort Hamilton commander to enforce a safe and secure working environment suitable for all. No further information is available on this incident at this time.”
According to ICE officials, at this time, Villavicencio “remains in ICE custody pending removal.”
As news of Villavicencio’s holding spreads, other politicians are beginning to weigh in. Locally, Congressmember Dan Donovan — who was recently endorsed by the president and whose district encompasses the fort — called the backlash against the deliveryman’s detention “insanity.”
“This is just more insanity,” he said in a statement. “Liberal activists are attacking ICE agents and military personnel for following the law in detaining an immigrant reportedly here illegally. If Democrats would actually come to the table and support border security funding, then these types of incidents wouldn’t happen in the future. That’s why I supported $10 billion for President Trump’s border wall and I’m working with him to reform our broken immigration system. The law is the law, and nobody should be telling the brave men and women in uniform not to enforce it.”
State Senator Marty Golden shared similar sentiments. In a press release, he called Villavicencio’s attempt to enter the fort a “security incident.”
“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,” he said. “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.”
This story has been updated to include statements from the Army base, Congressmember Dan Donovan and State Senator Marty Golden.