Local politicians, advocates and family members of a man detained by ICE last week after delivering pizza to a military base in New York gathered Wednesday to support the Ecuadorian father.
Pablo Villavicencio-Calderon, a 32-year-old undocumented immigrant from Ecuador who was working for a Queens pizzeria, was making a pizza delivery Friday to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn. He allegedly showed his New York City identification card to gain entrance to the base, like he did on other occasions when he delivered pizza there.
This time, though, he was questioned about his immigration status and held illegally by military personnel, according to his wife, Sandra Chica, who said he was detained until agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrived.
"What happened this time? Why?" Chica asks.
According to Fort Hamilton, the base followed procedure and directed Villavicencio to the Visitor Control Center to obtain a daily pass in order to gain access to the base and deliver the pizza.
“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 personnel to contact the proper authorities,” Fort Hamilton said in a statement.
Villavicencio-Calderon is currently being held at an ICE detention center in New Jersey. He told News 4 partner station Telemundo-47 over the phone Wednesday, "I miss my daughters. I miss my wife."
"These days, it has been a nightmare. I don't wish this on anybody," he said.
Chica, an American citizen, says she heard he may be deported as soon as next week.
“This is not right,” Chica said, adding that she has spoken with Villavicencio and that he is "devastated.”
Chica was at the Wednesday press conference with her and Villavicencio-Calderon’s 3- and 4-year-old daughters. The girls were both born in the United States.
In an exclusive interview Friday with Telemundo-47, Chica said that she is the only person left to take care of their daughters.
"I don't know what is going to happen. Pablo's future is uncertain," she said in Spanish, adding that "the most important thing for me is the well-being of my daughters."
Chica said that she has no other family members in the country.
"It was practically Pablo and me with the girls," she said. "Things like these are an emotional imbalance."
Villavicencio-Calderon said he came to the U.S. seeking asylum after receiving threats in Ecuador for being an LGBT activist. He said he filed paperwork to receive his green card, and even showed documents to prove he's been paying taxes.
City Councilmember Justin Brannan, who was at Wednesday press conference, said it was not the first time pizza was ordered from that base.
“Why was Pablo singled out? Why was it different this time?” Brannan asked, adding that the immigration system is broken and that he is sticking with the family to make sure they get justice.
Brennan said Villavicencio-Calderon applied for permanent residency and was waiting for a response when he was apprehended by ICE.
Part of the reason why this incident is upsetting for Brennan and others is that Villavicencio-Calderon showed his New York City-issued identification card as he had done before.
New York City’s identification card system, known as IDNYC, was created so New Yorkers could have access to an official government-issued identification card and is recognized by NYPD and city agencies as proof of identity and residency. It is issued regardless of immigration status.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said the arrest is sending shock waves throughout the immigrant community. He said New York City, a sanctuary city, needs to know what is required of city-based immigrants when they visit federal facilities.
In a statement to NBC 4, ICE said: “Pablo Villavicencio-Calderon is an illegally present citizen and national of Ecuador. In March 2010, he was granted voluntary departure by an immigration judge, but failed to depart by July 2010 as ordered. As such, his voluntary departure order became a final order of removal and is an ICE fugitive. On June 1, Villavicencio-Calderon was detained by military police officers and turned over to ICE. He remains in ICE custody pending removal.”
Villavicencio-Calderon’s family is asking local politicians and advocacy groups for help in preventing his deportation.
At a rally of support for Villavicencio in Bay Ridge Wednesday, protesters blocked a street as they yelled, "Free, free Pablo." Police said seven were detained for disorderly conduct and received summons.
"We're going to continue to amp up the pressure and the urgency," said one demonstrator.
"The part that really struck a chord with me the guy is married, he's a family man, waiting for green card to get processed. He doing everything he can possibly do," said Matthew Molter.
Rebecca Operstein, an immigrant herself, believes soldiers and ICE did the right thing.
"I don't agree with anyone come to this country and having freedom to do what they want without documentation or anything," she said.
According to a statement from Matt Dhaiti, the deputy press secretary at the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, the “overbroad enforcement against immigrant New Yorkers does nothing to make us safer. We are disturbed by these reports and looking into this situation.”
The city says that the Trump administration has ramped up overboard immigration enforcement — increasing arrests made by ICE of immigrants with no prior criminal conviction by over 200 percent in the New York City area.
However, Congressman Dan Donovan, who serves on the House Committee on Homeland Security and the House Committee for Foreign affairs, said military personnel were following the law.
“This is just more insanity. Liberal activists are attacking ICE agents and military personnel for following the law in detaining an immigrant reportedly here illegally,” Donovan said in a statement. “If Democrats would actually come to the table and support border security funding, then these types of incidents wouldn't happen in the future.”
Brooklyn state senator Martin Golden (R), a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs, also said in a statement: "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. 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."