Washington, DC –After the alarming detention of Pablo Villavicencio, a Brooklyn pizza delivery man, Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and eleven other Members of Congress have sent two letters probing the circumstances of his arrest and asking for his release from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. At Fort Hamilton Army Base simply to deliver a pizza, Villavicencio was subject to a background check by the guards and taken into ICE custody where he remains.
In the first letter, lawmakers pressed the Commanding Officer at Fort Hamilton for transparency into the policies at the base that led to Villavicencio’s arrest. Villavicencio was detained for presenting a municipal identification card instead of a license, and reports indicate that a background check was performed despite a fellow officer’s plea not to run the check.
“The actions taken by the post generate pressing questions about Fort Hamilton’s current policies, which are critical to maintaining public trust and safety,” wrote the lawmakers. “Furthermore, it can be argued that the practices employed in this particular scenario may fall outside the immediate responsibilities of Fort Hamilton’s guards.”
In the second letter to New York’s director of ICE, lawmakers are asking for Villavicencio’s release from ICE custody so he can exhaust all his legal options before deportation. First detained on June 1st, Villavicencio remains in ICE’s custody at a facility in New Jersey. He is married to an American citizen and the father of two young daughters. In February, Villavicencio had filed for a green card application.
“Living in the United States, he has dedicated his life to his family—his daughters and wife—whom are all U.S. citizens. A further review indicates that he has no criminal record,” the letter states. “Mr. Villavicencio’s friends, family and the greater community at large request that he be granted release from custody as he exercises the right to exhaust all his legal options before being removed from the United States. We would appreciate your review of this request, and to exercise full and fair consideration of this request, consistent with applicable law, rules and regulations.”
In addition to Velázquez, Rice and Schumer, the letter was signed by: Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY); Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY); Rep. Hakeem S. Jeffries (D-NY); Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY); Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY); Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY); Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY); Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY); Rep. José E. Serrano (D-NY); Rep. Thomas R. Suozzi (D-NY); Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY).
The full text of the both letters is below. For a PDF, click here and here.
June 22, 2018
Colonel Peter Sicoli
United States Army
Fort Hamilton Garrison
Brooklyn, NY 11252
Dear Col. Peter Sicoli:
As Members of Congress, we are writing to express our concerns over the detention of Pablo Villavicencio, who was arrested and detained after attempting to deliver pizza to the Brooklyn U.S. Army post in Fort Hamilton. The circumstances surrounding his arrest are questionable. Mr. Villavicencio was detained for presenting a municipal identification card instead of a license. A facility guard examined his ID and ran a background check and called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to facilitate his arrest and detention. It is our understanding that the facility in question executed a background check despite being pleaded by a fellow officer to not conduct the check.
While it is understood that Department of Defense (DOD) policy requires anyone without an official ID to go through a background check, it is unclear why this policy applies to persons who do not, per se, have official business at the post. Based on the statement provided by the DOD spokesperson to the New York Times, we can conclude that regardless of the type of license or ID card presented, it would have likely generated a background check. While Mr. Villavicencio was physically present at the base, he was not in the vicinity to conduct official business; he was there to deliver pizza.
The actions taken by the post generate pressing questions about Fort Hamilton’s current policies, which are critical to maintaining public trust and safety. Furthermore, it can be argued that the practices employed in this particular scenario may fall outside the immediate responsibilities of Fort Hamilton’s guards. Given the unusual circumstances surrounding Mr. Villavicencio’s arrest and transfer to ICE custody, we seek answers to the following questions.
1. Under what circumstances does a background check initiated by a guard of the Army base generate the response of an external local police agency or federal agency?
a. Please provide, in both numerical and percentage terms, the total number of background checks that have been executed by guards at Fort Hamilton and an analysis of how frequently this practice has resulted in the involvement of an external local police force or federal agency.
2. In the absence of an acceptable form of identification (i.e. driver license or passport), what is the current protocol for deliveries to Fort Hamilton?
a. Please describe, in detail, the process that guards employ to inform delivery employees of the background check process.
i. Do guards on duty explain to delivery employees that they may opt-out of a background check (i.e. not sign the waiver) if they choose not to enter the base? If so, please provide us with the instructions and guidance currently furnished by Fort Hamilton. If not, please describe why Fort Hamilton does not explain this opt-out right.
ii. As part of your answer to the above, please provide the details governing the background check waiver and the efforts employed by Fort Hamilton to inform persons, in clear terminology, the implications of the waiver.
iii. To your knowledge, are there reports from Fort Hamilton staff that indicate that other delivery employees have had to sign a waiver to “complete their delivery?”
A. How many such deliveries have also led to law enforcement detention?
B. Out of the persons who were referred to law enforcement for detention purposes, how many are immigrants?
I. Did these persons understand fully the terms and conditions governing the background check waiver? If not, were they informed of their right to opt-out?
II. How often do you engage with the local business community to ensure that delivery employees understand their responsibilities and the terms and conditions that govern their entry to the base?
3. The New York Times reported on June 8, 2018 that Mr. Villavicencio’s attorney expressed concern over the fact that he may have not consented to the background check in question. This issue has been brought up in follow-up reporting and a copy of the waiver was not immediately available. If his detention is ultimately found to be based on a non-consented waiver, what changes will Fort Hamilton implement to prevent such future incidents?
Given the circumstances, we kindly request a written a response to these questions within 15 calendar days and look forward to reviewing these issues with you.
June 22, 2018
Mr. Tom Decker, Director
New York Field Office
Immigration and Customs Enforcement
26 Federal Plaza
New York, NY 10278
RE: VILLAVICENCIO, Pablo
Dear Director Decker:
As Members of Congress, we write to express our support for Mr. Pablo Villavicencio’s petition and request to exhaust all legal options. Mr. Villavicencio is currently pending removal through Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
As previously noted by other Members of Congress [on date of letter’s sendoff], Mr. Villavicencio’s arrest and detention raise significant concerns. Despite having a petition pending with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), he was immediately detained and processed for removal from the United States. Living in the United States, he has dedicated his life to his family—his daughters and wife—whom are all U.S. citizens. A further review indicates that he has no criminal record.
Mr. Villavicencio’s friends, family and the greater community at large request that he be granted release from custody as he exercises the right to exhaust all his legal options before being removed from the United States. We would appreciate your review of this request, and to exercise full and fair consideration of this request, consistent with applicable law, rules and regulations.
Members of Congress