Borough immigration activist gets temporary deportation reprieve

Brooklyn immigration activist a cause célèbre after release from jail
Office of Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez

The government agreed to temporarily halt the deportation of nationally known immigrants’ rights advocate and Brooklynite Ravi Ragbir after he filed a lawsuit in federal district court on Feb. 9 alleging that the Trump administration is deliberately targeting immigrant activists who speak out on behalf of their cause.

“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 came a day before Ragbir was due to report for deportation to his native Trinidad under the order of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and ultimately seeks to both allow him 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 immigrants’ 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 immigrants’ rights activists over the past two years — including the co-founder of the New Sanctuary Coalition, Jean Montrevil, who was deported to Haiti last month.

Ragbir’s wife Amy Gottlieb told this newspaper that she and her husband, who live Downtown, are 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.”

Earlier in the week, other local pols raised their voices to fight for Ragbir. Councilmen Jumaane Williams (D–Flatbush) and Ydanis Rodriguez (D–Manhattan) — who were arrested during a protest following Ragbir’s Jan. 11 detention — accused the police department of conspiring with immigration agents during a Feb. 7 Council hearing on public safety, an allegation that both Mayor DeBlasio and the police department deny.

And on the same day, the mayor sent a letter to the director of the immigration agency’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,” DeBlasio wrote in the 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.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained Ragbir during a routine annual check-in on Jan. 11. He was finally released from an upstate New York jail 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 lived for more than 20 years.

Ragbir hails from Trinidad and Tobego, and has been a U.S. permanent 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 will not be required to check in with the immigration agency at all on Feb. 10, but a previously planned 9 am rally for immigrants’ rights is still set to take place in Foley Square on the distant isle of Manhattan.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Entourage: Ravi Ragbir, center, executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, arrived for his annual check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement last year with hundreds of supporters.
Associated Press / Mark Lennihan