NEW YORK – He went from delivering pizza to being detained by immigration officers.
An Ecuadorean restaurant worker making a delivery to an Army garrison in Brooklyn wound up being detained June 1 after a routine background check at the gate revealed there was a warrant for his arrest for immigration law violations, officials said.
Now, Pablo Villavicencio is in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody pending removal from the country, ICE spokeswoman Rachael Yong Yow said.
Villavicencio's wife, Sandra Chica, said he went to deliver pizza to Fort Hamilton last week and was asked for identification by the guard who received him.
Villavicencio, who worked at Nonna Delia's pizzeria, an hour away by car in Queens, produced a city identification card, but the official told him he wanted to see a state driver's license, Chica said.
An Army spokeswoman told The New York Times that if visitors don't have a military identification card, they have to get a pass that requires a background check. The check on Villavicencio showed there was an active ICE warrant on file, at which point he was detained by military police, said Fort Hamilton spokeswoman Catherine SantoPietro.
"This is unhuman," Chica said during a phone interview. "He was not committing any crime. He is a father who is working for his daughters. Every day our daughters ask me why their dad is not coming home."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday said he spoke with Chica to express his "deep frustration with the federal government's assault on New York's immigrant families."
Cuomo, a Democrat, also told her that a state-provided attorney has talked with Villavicencio, who is being held at a New Jersey facility.
"Sandra spoke to me as a mother of their two daughters — worried for her husband and her children," he said in a statement. "As a father of three daughters, I can't imagine the fear she and Pablo are feeling right now."
Cuomo offered Villavicencio free legal representation and services through the Liberty Defense Project, a state-led project to assist immigrants.
Chica, who was born in Colombia and moved to the U.S. a decade ago, said she is a U.S. citizen. She and Villavicencio have two daughters, who are 3 and 2 years old and were born in the U.S.
Chica and the two girls attended a news conference in front of the army base Wednesday along with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and City Councilman Justin Brannan. Both politicians said they were seeking answers from Fort Hamilton.
"Is our city, state and nation any safer today because they took a pizza delivery guy off the streets?" asked Brannan.
Yong Yow, the ICE spokeswoman, said that in March 2010 Villavicencio was granted voluntary departure by an immigration judge but failed to depart by July, as ordered.
"As such, his voluntary departure order became a final order of removal," she said.
Chica said this was not the first time Villavicencio delivered pizza at the base.
"What prompted them to call ICE?" she asked. "They only care about statistics, one more deported man. They don't care about the impact this will have on us."
Immigrant family advocacy groups like Make the Road New York have called for an investigation. Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said in a press release "it's absolutely disgusting when the strongest military in the world punches down by going after pizza delivery men."