In an abrupt about-face, federal prosecutors are rescinding a request to appeal the habeas corpus writ granted to Pablo Villavicencio, the pizza delivery man handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials after making a stop at the Brooklyn Fort Hamilton military facility in June.
The office of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman of the Southern District of New York alerted the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit early Friday that an agreement to withdraw the government’s appeal, with prejudice. The two-line stipulation filed with the circuit provides no explanatory information about the government’s motives or thinking behind withdrawing the appeal.
A spokesman for The Legal Aid Society, which is part of the team providing Villavicencio legal representation, said, “We are glad that today the Federal Government fully withdrew their challenge to Mr. Villavicencio’s hard-won release from immigration detention and his opportunity to pursue lawful status. With Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, we will continue to represent Mr. Villavicencio, and work with him on securing status to remain in the United States with his family.”
The about-face represents a rare move by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department, which has been, along with the Department of Homeland Security, the frontline enforcers of President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on the decision.
The drop of the appeal will keep in place the habeas writ granted by U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty of the Southern District of New York in August. After referring to the Trump application of the administration’s immigration policy as “thoughtless and cruel,” and the government’s attempt to deport Villavicencio as a “mercurial exercise of executive power,” Crotty granted the writ, allowing Villavicencio to continue to pursue lawful residency status.
Crotty ordered ICE to release Villavicencio and halt deportation proceedings against him while he continues to pursue lawful residency status. That situation was thrown into uncertainty early in the week, when prosecutors from the office of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman filed a notice of appeal with the Second Circuit.
Villavicencio’s attorneys denounced the move at the time. On Friday, a spokeswoman for Berman’s office declined to comment on the decision to reverse course.