An undocumented immigrant who was stopped while delivering food to a military base in Brooklyn, New York, has been released from detention and his deportation proceedings have been paused, the man's attorneys said Tuesday.
Pablo Villavicencio, 35, was detained by military police in June at Fort Hamilton while delivering an order from the brick-oven pizza restaurant in Queens where he worked. He was handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
He was set free from the Hudson County Correctional Center in Kearny, New Jersey, on Thursday night.
"Thank you. Thank you for everything," he said exuberantly while coming close to tears. "I'm so happy."
And, according to a CNN translation, he added in Spanish: "I love this country. I love this country because it gave me this family. (It) gave me my daughters, but I do not share the intolerance and disrespect of the current government."
The Legal Aid Society, an organization that provides legal help to those in poverty, said a judge in the Southern District of New York granted a temporary restraining order on Tuesday.
"Today is also an affirmation that the courts can still serve as a check on the (US) executive (branch) when it breaks with our laws and principles," said Adriene Holder, an attorney in the civil practice division at The Legal Aid Society. "The Villavicencio family has finally received a crucial measure of relief from their 53-day nightmare and we will continue to fight alongside them to protect their right to remain in the community they call home."
Villavicencio's potential deportation had triggered a national response, along with fear in immigrant communities.
Villavicencio, who is from Ecuador, filed for his green card in February and was waiting for a response when he was detained, his wife, Sandra Chica, has said.
Chica is a US citizen and they have two young daughters who were born in the United States.
"Mr. Villavicencio was held for 53 days, and that is 53 days too long -- this never should have happened," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. "While the federal government continues its un-American assault on immigrants, New York will stand with our immigrant communities and strive to uphold the values embodied by the (Statue of Liberty)."
The day he was detained, Villavicencio was trying to deliver a pizza to the Fort Hamilton Army base in Brooklyn. He showed his New York City identification card to a guard as he had done several times before, but the base said in a statement that he didn't have the proper identification, so he had to get a daily visitor pass.
Villavicencio ended up "signing a waiver permitting a background check," which revealed there was an active warrant for his deportation and prompted military police to call immigration agents.
The judge ruled Tuesday that Villavicencio, who came to the country illegally in 2008, has the right to pursue a legal waiver to block his deportation order.
Judge Paul Crotty said that Villavicencio, other than his immigration violations, had been a "model citizen." Villavicencio has no criminal history.
The ruling follows one earlier this month that temporarily had put off his deportation.