Pablo Villavicencio said he thought he would lose his daughters and his wife when he was detained at Fort Hamilton nearly two months ago.
"I thought the world was coming to an end for me," he said. "I thought I was losing everything, that my dream of having my family always together was coming to an end."
Villavicencio, 35, was arrested on June 1. When he arrived at Fort Hamilton, guards requested identification, and he produced a New York City identification card. A background check showed he had been ordered to leave the United States in 2010 but stayed.
U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty said Tuesday that Villavicencio, who was being held at a New Jersey lockup, can remain in the United States while he exhausts his right to try to gain legal status.
"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," Crotty wrote.
Villavicencio applied to stay in the U.S. after he married a U.S. citizen, with whom he has two young girls. The judge cited those children and said they are U.S. citizens.
"He has no criminal history," the judge wrote. "He has paid his taxes. And he has worked diligently to provide for his family."
The U.S. government, which had wanted the case moved from New York to New Jersey, did not immediately comment on the judge's action.
"Thank God the judge made a very fair and right decision" and told immigration officials that they "could not deport me from the country because I have been a model citizen for the nation, for my state, for my city and for my daughters and my marriage," Villavicencio said. "God makes justice."
Villavicencio walked out of the immigration detention center shortly before 9 p.m. Tuesday and was greeted with hugs from his jubilant wife and two young daughters. He thanked supporters and the media before being whisked away in an SUV.
"The order to release Pablo Villavicencio from federal detention is a victory for New Yorkers and for basic human rights -- but it shouldn't be," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. "Mr. Villavicencio was held for 53 days, and that is 53 days too long-this never should have happened."
After his ordeal, Villavicencio is now back at his home in Hempstead.
"I'm so happy, so happy to be home," Villavicencio said. "For my wife, for my daughters, it's unbelievable. I love this country, I love this city, I love New York, this is my city, I love this country, it's the best country in the world, but this administration, I don't know what happened."
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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