When scores of demonstrators gathered in lower Manhattan on Jan. 11 they did so to attend a peaceful vigil meant to recognize New York families facing deportation. Before the day’s end, however, at least 20 people would be arrested as part of a protest over the detention of an acclaimed human rights leader.
During a check-in that day, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained immigrant rights activist Ravi Ragbir, who serves as the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition based out of Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square South. Soon after, the New York Police Department arrested several protesters — including two New York City councilmen — who had gathered to protest Ragbir’s detainment.
“Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been targeting immigrant leaders, including myself, to shut us up because we speak out against the agency,” Ragbir said in an interview with WSN. “They cannot just deport people who are speaking out against them or put them in removal proceedings to scare them and scare everyone else.”
Ragbir entered the United States from his native Trinidad in 1991 on a visitor’s visa and became a legal permanent resident in 1994, according to his website. He was recognized by the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators with the 2017 Immigrant Excellence Award. The accolade is awarded to those demonstrate a deep commitment to enhancing their community.
Ragbir entered the United States from his native Trinidad in 1991 on a visitor’s visa and became a legal permanent resident in 1994, according to his website. He was recognized by the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators with the 2017 Immigrant Excellence Award. The accolade is awarded to those who demonstrate a deep commitment to enhancing their community.
Ragbir was convicted of wire fraud in 2001 and served five years in federal prison. Since then he evolved into a leading voice for immigrants rights while simultaneously dodging deportation efforts by ICE. Ragbir has faced a deportation order since 2006 as a result of his felony conviction.
He was granted a stay of deportation on Feb. 9, according to the New York Daily News. A federal judge made the ruling just one day before Ragbir’s scheduled deportation, allowing him to stay in the country at least until his next check-in with ICE on March 15.
With his attorney, Alina Das of the NYU Immigrant Defense Initiative, Ragbir has filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the federal government alleging that ICE targets immigrants for deportation because they oppose the agency’s work.
Rhiya Trivedi, a member of Ragbir’s defense committee, believes the outcome of the First Amendment case will have far-reaching repercussions.
“The retaliation against activists, not just Ravi, by ICE — there’s a lot of people at stake in that case,” Trivedi said.
She added that ICE’s violent response to the community’s support for Ragbir is very telling.
“ICE perceives this work as threatening because accompaniment is about bearing witness to tearing people away from everyone and everything,” Trivedi said. “If bearing witness is a threat to government, then it needs to rethink its agenda.”
U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest ordered Ragbir’s immediate release on Jan. 29, calling efforts to deport him unnecessarily cruel.
Forrest compared the treatment of immigrants to that of authoritarian regimes.
“We are not that country; and woe be the day that we become that country under a fiction that laws allow it,” Forrest wrote.
Dena Fisher, the administrative coordinator of New Sanctuary Coalition, said ICE attempted to send a message with Ragbir’s deportation — and its plan backfired, galvanizing instead of scaring the community.
“They thought they could make an example of him and therefore all these other people would just get on a plane and leave, and it’s absolutely having the other effect,” Fisher said. “It’s bringing to the public how evil and malicious they are.”
Among the people rallying behind Ragbir is New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
On Feb. 7, de Blasio wrote a letter to Thomas Decker, the New York field office director for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, urging the agency not to deport Ragbir.
.@NYCMayor to ICE: don’t deport Ravi Ragbir. He’s a fierce advocate for immigrant rights w/deep NYC ties. This type of ICE enforcement creates fear in immigrant communities & makes us all less safe. pic.twitter.com/MPm8Vmd21u
— Seth Stein (@SethStein) February 7, 2018
In his more than 20 years as a lawful permanent resident in the United States, Mr. Ragbir has made significant contributions to the city’s civic life and has been widely recognized for his work as a speaker, educator and organizer on issues related to immigrant rights,” de Blasio wrote. “The breadth and depth of Mr. Ragbir’s ties in our city should weigh heavily in favor of a stay of his removal.”
After it was announced that Ragbir was granted a stay of deportation, de Blasio took to Twitter to express his support.
“I’m glad to hear Ravi Ragbir was granted a stay,” he tweeted. “We celebrate today, but we know the bigger fight against @realDonaldDrumpf’s inhumane approach to our immigrant communities must continue. #IStandWithRavi.”
I’m glad to hear Ravi Ragbir was granted a stay. We celebrate today, but we know the bigger fight against @realDonaldDrumpf‘s inhumane approach to our immigrant communities must continue. #IStandWithRavi
— Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) February 9, 2018
Ragbir has been involved in a long and complicated cat and mouse game with ICE for years.
Ragbir received his first stay of deportation from the New York ICE Field Office in December 2011. The stay was renewed in February 2013, March 2014 and January 2016. He filed another request for renewal in November 2017, and his last renewal expired Jan. 19, although ICE detained him the week before.
Ragbir is not alone in his struggles with ICE.
The number of ICE arrests in 2017 rose 30 percent from that of fiscal year 2016, according to data from the Pew Research Center.
After years of decline, ICE arrests climbed to a three-year high in fiscal 2017, with the biggest percentage increases in Florida, northern Texas and Oklahoma https://t.co/wxd1Q1j3Jl pic.twitter.com/z1IklZyuuc
— Pew Research Center (@pewresearch) February 12, 2018
Some NYU students also face threats of deportation, especially in the wake of President Donald Trump’s plans to raise funding for immigration enforcement while ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Both NYU Dream Team and NYU Sanctuary have led campus discussions and protests surrounding immigration issues. Most recently the two joined together to host a workshop at NYU titled, “Know Your Rights Workshop: Immigration and Police Enforcement.”
Ragbir encourages immigrants facing threats of deportation to seek out support from their communities.
“Immigrants need to stop being afraid,” Ragbir said. “It is terrifying and very traumatic to go through the process, but if they understand that there are steps that they can take to fight to stay here with their families in the community, they will deal with them in a much more grounded manner. Reach out to sanctuary, learn and prepare a plan, and then rally support around you to implement that plan and to protect you and your family.”
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 20 print edition.
Email Sarah Jackson at [email protected]