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OPINION: Judge recognizes the quality of mercy in pizza deliveryman case

July 25, 2018 By Jack Ryan, Editorial Page Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Photo courtesy of Cagle Cartoons

In a ruling that moved the heart of this city, a federal judge on Tuesday released the undocumented pizza delivery man who had been held for 53 days after being arrested while attempting to make a delivery to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn.

Judge Paul Crotty ordered the immediate release of Pablo Villavicencio Calderon from immigration detention in New Jersey, where he had been locked up since June 1.

The government was planning to deport Villavicencio who has a wife and two young children, all of whom are Americans. At a morning hearing on Tuesday, the judge asked the government’s lawyer: “Is there any concept of justice here?”

“Is [Villavicencio] a threat to the country? A flight risk? Don’t they have to justify it?” he asked.

The judge added: “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.”

If the name Paul Crotty rings a bell, it should. Judge Crotty is an appointee of President George W. Bush and the former corporation counsel for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. He’s no lightweight. His ruling ordering Villavicencio released and a stay of the deportation order was simple and well-reasoned:

Justice would not be served by deporting Villavicencio or keeping him locked up.

Villavicencio, who made deliveries for a brick-oven pizzeria in Queens, applied for permanent residency in February. On Tuesday morning his lawyers received a date for an interview: Aug. 21. When he arrived in June at the gates of Fort Hamilton, he presented a municipal identification card, known as IDNYC, which Villavicencio has said he had used previously at the base.

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If he was hiding, it was in plain sight.

Although the decision of Judge Crotty would have impact on his entire family, Villavicencio himself was not present in the courtroom. He remained at the detention center in New Jersey. Because he is “undocumented,” he does not enjoy the due-process rights offered to even the most violent criminals. His kids were there hoping to get their daddy back.

Once again Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has egg on its face. The men and women of this agency have important work to do that is vital to the security of our country. They should not be wasting time trying to separate a hard-working pizza delivery guy from his children.

Legal Aid Society Attorney Adriene Holder, who is representing the Villavicencio family, said the rule of “law, humanity and morality” prevailed and the family has “finally received a crucial measure of relief from their 53-day nightmare.”

“This decision,” she said, “should serve as a rebuke against the Trump administration and its merciless crusade to tear families apart.”

We doubt Trump or Attorney General Jeff Sessions will see it that way, even though the decision was made by a man who served as corporation counsel for the person who now serves as Trump’s personal attorney. Although we would like to hope that this decision will impact immigration policy, it likely will not.

“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’s weak defense of 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.”

The threat of deportation still hangs over the head of Villavicencio, but hopefully the next court will also recognize that justice will not be served by dividing this family.

In the morning hearing while he held the feet of the government lawyers to the fire, Judge Crotty said, “The powerful are doing what they want and the poor are suffering what they must.”

—Jack Ryan, editorial page editor

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