“No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here.”
That was the message at a Wednesday, June 6 protest hosted by Bay Ridge for Social Justice in the wake of the detention of 35-year-old Pablo Villavicencio, a pizza deliveryman and father of two who now faces deportation to Ecuador after attempting to make a delivery to the Fort Hamilton Army Base.
The protest – with empty pizza boxes serving as signage – kicked off at John Paul Jones “Cannonball” Park but, according to protesters, seemingly spontaneously morphed into a march through the Ridge. It ultimately made its way to Fifth Avenue where seven demonstrators were arrested for blocking traffic.
The group created a chain across Fifth Avenue between 86th and 87th Street and were issued criminal court summonses for civil disobedience, cops said.
Among them, 17-year-old Alex Pellitteri. Pellitteri is one of two high school students recently appointed to the neighborhood’s community board and is actively involved with both Bay Ridge for Social Justice and the South Brooklyn DSA.
“When ICE does something as egregious as they did, just marching and chanting isn’t enough,” he told this paper. “We have to take the streets. I got arrested to show that we are willing to do whatever it takes to defend immigrants.”
Villavicencio’s detention has sparked national debate.
On Friday, June 1, Villavicencio was detained and turned over to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials during a routine food run, officials say, he’d done before with no problem. He’d previously gained access to the base with his IDNYC card – a form of identification put in place by Mayor Bill de Blasio to guarantee all New Yorkers access to basic city services which require identification, regardless of their immigration status. This time, it wasn’t enough.
According to both ICE and Fort Hamilton officials, Villavicencio was flagged for an outstanding warrant during a voluntary background check to enter the base. Villavicencio, who was granted voluntary departure by an immigration judge in March of 2010, failed to leave the country by July of that year – the deadline he’d be given.
He’d since married an American citizen, Sandra Chica, the mother of his children. He is also a taxpayer. In February, the pair began to apply for the deliveryman’s residency status. All of this, coupled with Villavicencio’s clean record, protesters argued, points to a broken immigration system.
“We gave a strong message that what ICE did was unacceptable,” said Pellitteri, who thought the turnout was very successful considering the group had less than a day to organize it.
“I was happy to see a good turnout of people from our community, including our local politicians, to say that this is unacceptable in our neighborhood,” echoed Bay Ridge resident and fellow protester Pete Finnen. “Our immigration laws are broken but it’s time we stop treating immigrants like criminals.”
ICE, Finnen maintains, had “no place” arresting Villavicencio for doing his job.
“He’s on a path to citizenship and has a family here,” he told this paper. “As a friend of immigrants, I know how difficult and time-consuming becoming a citizen can be and this kind of punishment is extreme.”
As for the arrests, he said, “I know that inevitably some people will be mad about protesters blocking traffic but I think they should direct that energy into being mad that a family has been traumatized.”
Electeds standing alongside Finnen included Councilmembers Justin Branann, Carlos Menchaca, Mark Treyger and Jumaane Williams. The protest came just hours after Brannan and Borough President Eric Adams stood outside the fort with Villavicencio’s wife and children to demand answers.
“Is our city, state and nation any safer today because Pablo is off the street?” asked Brannan Wednesday morning. “Is our city, state and nation any safer today because they took a pizza delivery guy off the street?”
The protest was co-sponsored by the South Brooklyn DSA, Fight Back Bay Ridge, South Brooklyn Progressive Resistance, Brooklyn Young Democrats and Young Progressives of America.
Currently, there is both a petition and a GoFundMe being circulated to help “Free Pablo.” The petition, launched by Bay Ridge for Social Justice, claims Villavicencio was “profiled and targeted while doing his job” and that Fort Hamilton had “no authority or right” to interrogate the deliveryman about his immigration status.
“There are over 11 million undocumented people in this country,” Finnen said. “Mass deportation is not the answer.”
According to Radio Free Bay Ridge, a hyperlocal political podcast, the seven arrested were released from the 68th Precinct before 9 p.m. Also, they’d had themselves some pizza.