Brooklyn says Free Pablo.
A protest outside the Fort Hamilton Army Base on Thursday, July 19 in defense of Pablo Villavicencio, the 35-year-old pizza deliveryman and father of two who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after attempting to make a delivery to the Bay Ridge base in June, spanned generations.
It also delivered a strong message: Immigrants are welcome here.
On Friday, June 1, Villavicencio was detained and turned over to ICE officials during a routine food run that supporters said 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 had been 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, Luciana, 4 and Antonia, 2. 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.
Now Villavicencio faces deportation to Ecuador. He will plead his case to a federal judge on Tuesday, July 24 – a court appearance those present Thursday promised to “storm.”
Among those at Thursday’s protest was 16-year-old Ian Fernandez, who came all the way from Kew Gardens, Queens to show support for Villavicencio.
“The fact that Pablo has already been in detention for a month is unacceptable. It’s inhumane and it has to change,” he told the crowd. “In order to get this man free we need to give him as much support as possible.”
Also crucial, Fernandez said, is the support of the youth.
“What I want is for Pablo to be free,” he said.
“There is absolutely no reason that he should be sitting in jail when he could be being a productive member of society,” said another protester. “Instead of going for justice and what’s most fiscally sound, [the government is] going for what’s the most vindictive.”
If Villavicencio does go back to Ecuador, if he attempts to come back and restart the process, he will miss out on close to two decades with his family.
“The process has been made infinitely more difficult than when someone would do a medical inspection on Ellis Island,” the man said. “It takes 20 years to get here now. His children will be grown by then.”
An immigrant in the crowd shared her story.
“Immigrants are human beings,” said the girl, who came to America about four years ago with her mom and two siblings, and who is still waiting for her Green Card. The family has since been separated from their father — who is not being granted a Visa into the country.
“I love my friends, I love my school. I’m applying to college here. My mom goes to school here, all of my siblings go to school here,” she said, posing the question, “How would you feel if an American was being treated like this?
“Immigrants are part of this country,” she added. “Immigrants built this country. And we should be fighting for them.”
“ICE only has their power as long as we recognize them as an authority figure. The minute we stop and realize the power we have, change will come,” said 18-year-old Alex Pellitteri.
Pellitteri, an organizer with Bay Ridge for Social Justice (BRSJ) is one of two high school students recently appointed to the neighborhood’s community board. He was also one of seven arrested at the group’s first rally to ‘Free Pablo.’
“It is not enough anymore just to stand here and march and chant,” he said. “It’s important but it’s time that we flex our muscles and show the power of the people and the working class.”
The protest was organized by BRSJ, with support from such groups as the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys UAW 2325, the NYC DSA Immigrant Justice Working Group, Within our Lifetime • United for Palestine, the International Socialist Organization of Brooklyn and the Food Chain Workers Alliance.
The next rally to free Pablo will take place at the New York Federal Court House, 500 Pearl Street, on Tuesday, June 24, starting at 9 a.m.