Government won't appeal freedom for immigrant detained while delivering pizza to Army base

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Saturday, October 6, 2018

HEMPSTEAD, Long Island -- An Ecuadorian pizza deliveryman freed from an immigration detention facility by a judge who criticized the handling of the case will remain free after the government declined Friday to pursue an appeal.

Attorneys notified the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan that the government won't challenge a judge's July decision freeing Pablo Villavicencio.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a statement that he wasn't surprised.

"The federal government is admitting what we already knew - there was absolutely no legitimate reason to lock Mr. Villavicencio up and take him away from his family," Cuomo said.

Villavicencio, 35, was detained June 1 in New Jersey after delivering pizza to the Fort Hamilton Army base in Brooklyn. The detention came as Villavicencio was in the process of seeking to establish legal residency and overcome a 2010 order to leave the country. He is married to a U.S. citizen. Their two young daughters also are U.S. citizens.

Cuomo said his arrest "while he was doing his job was an outrageous affront to our New York values and raised serious concerns of ethnic profiling."

When he ordered the release of Villavicencio over the summer, U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty said he didn't believe the detention was "accidental or random."

"It should not be difficult to discern that families should be kept together rather than be separated by the thoughtless and cruel application of a so called 'zero tolerance' policy," Crotty wrote.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered the policy in April.

Nicholas Biase, a spokesman for government attorneys, said a notice of appeal that had been filed while the government decided whether to pursue an appeal was withdrawn Friday.

In a statement, The Legal Aid Society, which represented Villavicencio, said it was pleased that the government "fully withdrew their challenge to Mr. Villavicencio's hard-won release from immigration detention and his opportunity to pursue lawful status."


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