Judge orders release of pizza-worker immigrant
NEW YORK — A federal judge has ordered the release of an Ecuadorean immigrant who was held for deportation after he delivered pizza to a Brooklyn Army installation.
Judge Paul Crotty issued an order late Tuesday saying Pablo Villavicencio must be immediately released. He is being held at a New Jersey lockup.
Crotty said the release was necessary because his imminent removal from the United States is no longer reasonably foreseeable. He said Villavicencio can remain in the United States while he exhausts his right to complete an effort to gain legal status. Villavicencio applied to stay in the US after he married a US citizen. They have two young girls.
At a hearing earlier Tuesday, Crotty asked if the US government has ‘‘any concept of justice’’ in mind as he questioned the need to deport Villavicencio.
Crotty put a government lawyer on the spot as he heard legal arguments over whether a court in New Jersey or New York should help decide the fate of Villavicencio, who failed to obey a 2010 deportation order before marrying a US citizen and making a life in America.
He questioned the motivations behind the government’s decisions to put Villavicencio, 35, on the brink of expulsion.
‘‘Well, the powerful are doing what they want, and the poor are suffering what they must,’’ Crotty said after hearing Assistant US 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 argued for the case to be transferred to New Jersey because Villavicencio is detained there. He said legal precedent dictated that New Jersey was the proper venue.
Cordaro said Villavicencio would still be able to pursue his application to become a legal US resident after he is deported.
The case has attracted widespread attention amid a crackdown by the administration of President Trump on illegal immigration.
Democratic Governor 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 was detained June 1 after a routine background check revealed he failed to obey the 2010 order to leave the country.
Villavicencio’s lawyers say he should be released from custody as he pursues his February application to gain legal immigration status from his marriage to a US citizen. He and his wife, Sandra Chica, have two girls, ages 2 and 4. They played with toys Tuesday as courtroom spectators around them observed the legal arguments. Villavicencio was not in court.
Another judge already temporarily blocked his deportation. He has remained in ICE custody in New Jersey.
Lawyers Ann Marie Domyancic and Matthew Forbes argued for an order preventing Villavicencio’s deportation and asked that he be freed while his case prevailed, an argument that attracted Crotty’s sympathy.
‘‘Why is he being detained? Is he a threat to the community? Is he a risk of flight?’’ Crotty asked. ‘‘What is the danger to the community for a man who has committed no crime?’’
Cordaro responded that it was common practice to detain individuals who face an immediate removal order.