The deportation of an Ecuadorian man who was arrested after delivering pizza to a New York Military installation was blocked by a federal judge who ordered the father of two immediately released from an ICE detention center.
Villavicencio was doing his job on June 1 when U.S. Army security officers questioned his identification and summoned immigration authorities. He was in the middle of seeking legal status, but government officials sought to quickly deport him, prompting outcry from advocates and politicians.
District Court Judge Paul Crotty stopped Villavicencio's deportation so he could continue pursuing permanent permission to live in the United States.
"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," Crotty, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote. “Petitioner married ... a United States citizen. He now has two children, both of whom are United States citizens. He has no criminal history. He has paid his taxes. And he has worked diligently to provide for his family."
An emotional Villavicencio was released Tuesday night in New Jersey, and scooped his two young daughters into his arms.
The judge was critical of the government's efforts to send Villavicencio back to Ecuador, where officials said he could still pursue permanent residency in America.
“Well, the powerful are doing what they want, and the poor are suffering what they must,” he said during the hearing. "I mean, is there any concept of justice here, or are we just doing this because we want to?
"Why do we want to enforce the order? It makes no difference in terms of the larger issues facing the country."
The judge asked why the man needed to be locked up. "What is the danger to the community for a man who has committed no crime?” he queried.
Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement Tuesday saying the federal government has "cruelly" kept Villavicencio from his wife and two young daughters "for no legitimate reason."
Villavicencio entered the U.S. illegally in 2008 and agreed to leave at an immigration hearing two years later. Instead, he stayed, marrying a U.S. citizen and having two girls. His wife, Sandra Chica, helped him submit an application asking the government to recognize him as her husband.
That is the first step in obtaining a green card. But before the application could be processed, Villavicencio was arrested.