‘Hi, Daddy… When are you coming home?’

Sandra Chica, wife of Pablo Villavicencio, with her daughters Luciana and Antonia at their Long Island home. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

[Editor’s update: On June 24, Federal District Judge Paul A. Crotty ordered Pablo Villavicencio released and he was reunited with his family.]

On Tuesday, a federal judge will decide the future of Pablo Villavicencio, who is facing a deportation order. (…) On June 1, the Ecuadoran immigrant was detained as he delivered pizza at the Fort Hamilton military base in Brooklyn.

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Ever since he was incarcerated at a New Jersey detention center, Luciana, 4, Antonia, 3, have lived without their father, and Sandra Chica, the Colombian woman Villavicencio married in 2013 and with whom he built a home, is heartbroken.

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“This has been extremely painful, agonizing and stressful. You try to stay positive and think that things will be okay, but it has been almost two months of constant struggle. It is exhausting, not just for me but also for Pablo, who is locked up and deprived of his freedom when he is not a criminal. For the girls, this has been very traumatic,” said the delivery man’s wife, sitting in the living room of her Long Island home. In the style of Roberto Benigni’s movie “Life Is Beautiful,” Sandra has created a parallel life for her daughters to justify Daddy’s absence.

“I have had to come up with many stories to try to sugarcoat the situation. I don’t know if I am doing the right thing or not, but as a parent you try to spare your children that kind of pain. I tell them that Daddy is working and that his boss is keeping him because he needs him for the time being,” said the nurse, who met her husband in the elevator of a residential building in Jamaica, Queens. He got her phone number, asked her out to eat Colombian food, and won her heart.

“I have taken the girls to see him at the detention center three times. I tell them that is where he works. But saying goodbye is always very hard and we can’t hide the tears, so the girls ask why we are crying and I have to tell them that it is because we are so happy to see us all together,” said Sandra.

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“Turning into a single mom all of a sudden and by force is extremely hard. Knowing that everything is on your shoulders is an ongoing agony and, even though I have received donations and much help so far and that it has helped me pay the rent, I think: ‘What is my life going to be like in the future?’ because I crunch the numbers and see that, even if I worked full-time, there are so many expenses that I will not be able to pay for everything,” said the mother anxiously, as her attention is stolen by the beep of her cell phone.

“It’s Pablo. It’s Daddy!” shouted Sandra, and Luciana ran to be the first one to grab the phone.

“Hi, Daddy, how are you? … I’m happy to hear you… When are you coming home?” said the oldest with a huge grin on her face as she listens to her father’s voice. After the conversation is over, Luciana says that she loves her dad because he spoils her and calls her “my love” and “princess,” and always plays with her and her little sister, whom he calls “tirilili.”

The youngest thinks for a few seconds and says: “I want that man to let Daddy go right away so he can be with his princesses. I am going to hug him and kiss him many, many times.” She then runs to her bedroom to hug a large teddy bear whom she calls Margarito.

(…) While his deportation order was halted temporarily, the judge will make a final decision on Tuesday.

‘God will not abandon me’

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“I hope that the court will allow me to see my home with my wife and daughters again and grants me my freedom,” said Villavicencio, 35. “Although I admit that anxiety persists every day and that I cannot sleep wondering what is going to happen, I am convinced that God will not abandon me,” added the Guayaquil native.

In 2010, he applied for asylum at the USCIS. When the agency decided to hand the case over to immigration court, Villavicencio accepted to leave voluntarily but did not. He later met Sandra, and just a few months ago submitted his adjustment of status papers as the spouse of a U.S. citizen.

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Jennifer Williams, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society who is handling Villavicencio’s case, explained that the future of the Ecuadorian immigrant is now entirely in the hands of Judge Paul Crotty of the federal court for the Southern District of New York.

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“The judge must determine whether the ongoing detention and removal are legal. Because the case is not currently in front of an immigration judge, we will not litigate the underlying merits of his applications for deportation relief,” said the lawyer, adding that, if things go in Villavicencio’s favor, the next step will be to wait for the case to go to immigration court to start fighting another battle.

“The district court judge may order his immediate release, but if he decides not to release Pablo, we will seek an appeal. There are other possible scenarios,” said the attorney, who added that she is confident that Luciana and Antonia are going to reunite with their father soon.

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