Feds agree to postpone immigrant activist’s deportation

Federal prosecutors have granted a postponement of Ravi Ragbir’s planned deportation, which had been set for Sat., Feb. 10. Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY JULIANNE MCSHANE | The government agreed to temporarily halt the deportation of high-profile immigrant-rights advocate Ravi Ragbir after he filed a First Amendment lawsuit in federal district court on Feb. 9 alleging that the Trump administration is deliberately targeting activists who speak out on behalf of immigrants.

“Like so many people who are living in this country under the threat of deportation, I know how important it is to raise our voices against the injustices in the system,” Ragbir said in a statement. “This lawsuit is not just about me. It is about all of the members of our community who are speaking out in our struggle for immigrant rights.”

The suit comes a day before Immigration and Customs Enforcement had ordered Ragbir to report for deportation to his native Trinidad. The suit ultimately seeks both to allow Ragbir to stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation and to restrain the government from targeting immigration activists.

Ragbir filed the suit along with the immigrant-rights organization he co-founded — the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York — and four similar groups, including the New York Immigration Coalition. The lawsuit alleges that the federal government has unfairly arrested and deported numerous immigrant-rights activists over the past two years — including co-founder of the New Sanctuary Coalition Jean Montrevil, who was deported to Haiti last month.

Ragbir had been scheduled to check in with ICE in Lower Manhattan on Saturday morning for immediate deportation.

But federal prosecutors agreed to postpone his deportation until a follow-up court ruling in the case that’s not expected until at least mid-March, according to the Daily News.

Ragbir’s wife Amy Gottlieb said the couple, who live in Downtown Brooklyn, were thankful for the extra time they have together and plan to continue their fight.

“We are thrilled at this temporary reprieve and will continue fighting to keep Ravi here permanently,” said Gottlieb, the associate regional director of the American Friends Service Committee, an organization that advocates for justice and human rights. “ICE cannot continue its unconstitutional targeting of activists who are willing to speak out against their unjust system.”

The New Sanctuary Coalition is based at Judson Memorial Church, on Washington Square South.

“If the First Amendment of the United States Constitution means anything, it means freedom of expression and freedom of action,” said Reverend Donna Schaper, Judson’s senior minister and a board member of the coalition. “Freedom doesn’t bring with it being singled out, silenced or deported. Freedom means the capacity to speak your mind without state intervention or retribution. In the case of Ravi Ragbir, there is clear and unwarranted punishment for legal thoughts, words and actions. Not only is this punishment illegal. It is also fundamentally and cruelly immoral.”

Earlier in the week, other local pols raised their voices to fight for Ragbir. Councilmembers Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez – who were arrested during a protest following Ragbir’s Jan. 11 detention — accused the Police Department of conspiring with immigration agents during a Council hearing on public safety, an allegation that both Mayor de Blasio and the Police Department deny.

And on the same day, the mayor sent a letter to the director of ICE’s New York field office, urging it to halt Ragbir’s deportation and consider his contributions both to the immigrant community and the city at large before deporting him, as well as the effect that the move could have on the already fraught relationship between immigrants and law enforcement.

“[Ragbir] and others like him have played a crucial role in making New York a beacon of diversity and inclusion for so many,” de Blasio wrote in the Feb. 7 letter. “When ICE takes aggressive action against leaders in immigrant communities, it casts a chilling effect on immigrants’ willingness to engage with the government and law enforcement, generally, undercutting that trust.”

Gottlieb said they were grateful to the mayor for weighing in and lending his voice to their cause.

“We’re certainly grateful for all the support we get and glad that the mayor is willing to support us,” she said.

ICE agents detained Ragbir during a routine annual check-in at 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan on Jan. 11. He was finally released from an Upstate New York detention center nearly three weeks later, on Jan. 29, after Judge Katherine Forrest wrote in a powerful statement that Ragbir must be granted “the freedom to say goodbye” before being booted from the country where he has live for more than 20 years.

Ragbir hails from Trinidad and Tobago, and has been a permanent U.S. resident since 1994, but has fought a deportation order since 2000, after he served a 30-month prison term for wire fraud, which led the feds to revoke his residency. He has routinely checked in with the immigration agency for more than a decade and complied with all conditions of his release, the suit says.

Ragbir now will not be required to check in with ICE at all on Feb. 10, but a previously planned 9 a.m. rally for immigrants’ rights is still set to take place in Foley Square.

 

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