On Friday, Pablo Villavicencio-Calderón arrived to the Fort Hamilton military base in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to deliver pizza, as he had done several times before. But on this day, a military officer called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The agency detained and transferred him to an immigration detention center in New Jersey over the weekend, where he now faces possible deportation.
It is protocol for those entering military bases to provide identification, and City Councilmember Justin Brannan said Villavicencio-Calderón did just that, according to Daily Kos. He reportedly presented his IDNYC Municipal ID, which NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio established a few years ago. The card, which gives New Yorkers access to museums and entertainment venues, served as a lifeline for undocumented immigrant who previously didn’t have the government-issued identification. The New York Police Department accepts the card as valid ID – which doesn’t give any details about one’s immigrant status – when someone wants to report a crime. However, after Pablo gained access onto the base around noon with his ID, a soldier supposedly asked him for proof of citizenship. When the Ecuadorian immigrant couldn’t do so, the soldier detained him, Gothamist reports.
Brannan questions why this happened now. “The altercation, the incident, happened inside the base,” he said at a press conference today. “It didn’t happen at the gate, from what we’re being told … is this some new policy that we’re unaware of? Something changed here.” Though we don’t yet have a clear picture of the moment, we have seen an administration that is hellbent on vilifying immigrants – something that has created an increasingly dangerous environment for this community.
For its part, Fort Hamilton stated that “an individual attempted to gain access to Fort Hamilton to make a delivery without valid Department of Defense identification. The person was directed to the Visitor Control Center to obtain a daily pass. Upon signing a waiver permitting a background check, Department of Defense identification. The person was directed to the Visitor Control Center to obtain a daily pass. Upon signing a waiver permitting a background check, Department of the Army Access Control standard for all visitors, an active Immigration and Customs Enforcement warrant was discovered on file.”
This raises the question of whether soldiers should act as immigration enforcement agents. With Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, many cities across the country vowed to stop cooperating with ICE – meaning they refused to detain immigrants held for other crimes. Measures like these should afford immigrants a little protection and keep from unnecessarily separating families. What transpired at Fort Hamilton is driving a wedge among a family of four.
Pablo has lived in the United States for 10 years. He applied for a Green Card in February. He’s married to Sandra Chica, a US citizen. They have two young daughters, who haven’t stopped asking for their dad, Chica revealed today. “There are no words to describe the drama my daughters and I are going through,” she said, according to El Diario NY. “In the blink of an eye, life changed for us, and all I am asking for now is that they don’t deport my husband, that they give him a chance… For God’s sake, what is happening? How can it be that, now, in New York City, soldiers are changing their role to be middlemen to immigration agents?”
This heartbreaking case is another example of how life is precarious for undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Chica has so far been met with bad news. “A lawyer told me that there is nothing he can do, that he is going to be deported,” she said. Recent history has shown that rallying together and calling on politicians and the government to save someone from deportation can have a real impact. NYC is already gearing up to fight for Villavicencio-Calderón. Today at 6 p.m. ET, Bay Ridge for Social Justice will host an event titled, ICE Out of Bay Ridge and NYC. “We are outraged by the fact that an agency whose job is to keep us ‘safe’ would directly contribute to harming a fellow human being who was simply doing his job. When someone is unjustly and immorally detained, especially because of a government agency, it requires a strong community response,” the Facebook event page reads. “We demand answers. We demand ICE out of Bay Ridge. We demand ICE out of NYC. We demand an end to all [deportations.]”
As his story garners national attention, people are also uniting to help Villavicencio-Calderón’s family. A GoFundMe campaign aiming to raise $20,000 is currently trending on the site. It has raised about $4,500 so far. Donate here.