NEW YORK (FOX5NY.COM/AP) - An Ecuadorean immigrant who was freed by a federal judge after being held for two months for deportation was enjoying time at home with his family Wednesday.
Pablo Villavicencio told reporters outside his home on Long Island that he thought his world "was coming to an end" when he was detained after delivering pizza to a Brooklyn Army installation.
ICE agents arrested Villavicencio when he tried to deliver a food order to a U.S. Army garrison at Fort Hamilton. When he arrived, guards requested identification and he produced a city identification card. A background check showed that Villavicencio had been ordered to leave the United States in 2010.
After a court hearing in Manhattan on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty ordered ICE to immediately release Villavicencio.
"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 in his ruling.
The judge stated that Villavicencio, who had been in ICE custody in New Jersey since his arrest, can remain in the United States while he continues to pursue legal status.
Villavicencio married U.S. citizen Sandra Chica in 2013. They have two U.S.-born children. Earlier this year, he applied for a green card and was supposed to have an interview with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on August 21.
Judge Crotty cited those American-born children in his ruling.
"He has no criminal history," the judge wrote. "He has paid his taxes. And he has worked diligently to provide for his family."
Within hours, Villavicencio was released from an ICE facility in New Jersey. He and his family were escorted into an SUV, which drove away and then stopped near a group of reporters. A visibly emotional Villavicencio leaned out of the SUV's window and thanked God, his wife, his legal team, the press, and others for his release.
"I'm so happy," he said, through tears. "I love you," he added as he kissed his daughter.
Much of Tuesday's hearing focused on whether the case should be heard in New York or New Jersey, where he is detained. The government's attorney argued that the case should be transferred to New Jersey. Villavicencio's lawyers argued the case should be heard in New York and that his release should be immediate.
"The judge posed some pretty difficult questions that the government was unable to answer," Legal Aid attorney Gregory Copeland told reporters after the hearing but before the ruling came down.
Elected officials are connecting Villavicencio's case to the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy on immigrants illegally entering the country.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had asked federal homeland security officials to look into the case, saying recent detentions raise significant legal questions.
A spokesperson for The Legal Aid Society confirmed that Villavicencio has no criminal record.
With AP and WNYW reports