HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – An Ecuadorean immigrant who's been freed by a U.S. judge said Wednesday he thought he would lose his daughters and his wife when he was detained while delivering pizza to a Brooklyn Army installation nearly two months ago.
"I thought the world was coming to an end for me," Pablo Villavicencio, speaking in Spanish outside his Long Island home, said the morning after his release from immigration detention.
"I thought I was losing everything, that my dream of having my family always together was coming to an end," he said.
Villavicencio, 35, was arrested June 1 while making a delivery to the garrison in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn. When he arrived, guards requested identification, and he produced a city identification card. A background check showed he had been ordered to leave the United States in 2010 but stayed.
U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty said Tuesday that Villavicencio, who was being held at a New Jersey lockup, can remain in the United States while he exhausts his right to try to gain legal status.
"Although he stayed in the United States unlawfully and is currently subject to a final order of removal, he has otherwise been a model citizen," the judge wrote.
"Thank God the judge made a very fair and right decision" and told immigration officials that they "could not deport me from the country because I have been a model citizen for the nation, for my state, for my city and for my daughters and my marriage," said Villavicencio. "God makes justice."
Villavicencio applied to stay in the U.S. after he married a U.S. citizen, with whom he has two daughters, ages 4 and 2.
The judge cited those children and said they also are U.S. citizens.
"He has no criminal history," the judge wrote. "He has paid his taxes. And he has worked diligently to provide for his family."
"You feel happy that your family is reunited but you are left disappointed and sad that many other families are in the same situation," said Villavicencio's wife, Sandra Chica. "We, who lived it and know what it is like, we don't wish this to happen to anybody. "
The U.S. government did not immediately comment on the judge's action.
Adriene Holder, the attorney-in-charge of the civil practice at the Legal Aid Society, said the rule of "law, humanity and morality" prevailed and the Villavicencio family has "finally received a crucial measure of relief from their 53-day nightmare."
"This decision should serve as a rebuke against the Trump Administration and its merciless crusade to tear families apart," Holder said in a statement.
The judge ruled after hearing arguments earlier Tuesday, when he put a government lawyer on the spot over the effort by immigration authorities to enforce a 2010 deportation order. He questioned the need to detain and quickly deport Villavicencio.
"Well, the powerful are doing what they want, and the poor are suffering what they must," the judge said after hearing Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Cordaro defend the government's actions.
"I mean, is there any concept of justice here or are we just doing this because we want to?" the judge asked. "Why do we want to enforce the order? It makes no difference in terms of the larger issues facing the country."
Cordaro said Villavicencio would still be able to pursue his application to become a legal U.S. resident if he were deported.
The case has attracted widespread attention amid a crackdown by the administration of President Donald Trump on illegal immigration. Trump has said his policies are designed to keep the country safe.
Information from: Newsday, http://www.newsday.com