Brooklyn immigration activist a cause célèbre after release from jail

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

A local congresswoman is taking up the cause of a nationally known immigrants’ rights activist by introducing a private bill that would stymie his upcoming deportation.

Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D–Brooklyn Heights) said she was advocating on behalf of Downtown resident Ravi Ragbir because his contributions to the community prove that the federal government has no business threatening him with deportation, citing the massive protest that immediately followed his recent detention by immigration officials.

“The outrage after Ravi’s detention by [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is a testament to his status as a community pillar,” Velazquez said in a statement. “Ravi has dedicated himself to helping others and poses no threat to anyone, making threats to deport him nonsensical and inhumane.”

Velazquez introduced the bill on the floor of the House of Representatives on Feb. 6 to provide Ragbir with a path to permanent residency, which could go into effect even if Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported Ragbir as early as Feb. 10, when the Feds ordered him to report. Passage of the bill is a long shot, though. Both the House and Senate would need to vote to pass it, with President Trump ultimately signing it into law, according to members of Ragbir’s legal team, who added that the Department of Homeland Security may intervene and hold off on the deportation given the introduction of the bill.

Ragbir said on Feb. 6 that President Trump’s administration was undermining the humanity of immigrants.

“This administration is waging psychological warfare [against immigrants],” he said on a call with reporters. “It’s horrible — we’re in a state of turmoil.”

Ragbir, who hails from Trinidad and Tobego, 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 following a conviction for wire fraud, which led the Feds to revoke his residency. He now works as the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York, an organization he co-founded to fight for immigrants facing detention and deportation.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained him during a routine check-in on Jan. 11, prompting large protests that led to the arrest of councilmen Jumaane Williams (D–Flatbush) and Ydanis Rodriguez (D–Manhattan). Ragbir was finally released from an upstate New York jail nearly three weeks after his arrest, on Jan. 29, after Judge Katherine Forrest wrote in a powerful statement that Ragbir must be granted “the freedom to say goodbye” before being deported — a move which his wife, Amy Gottlieb, told this paper restored some of her faith that the immigration system would see reforms.

“I was thrilled, mostly because Ravi was coming home, but also just because the kind of language she used was so powerful,” said Gottlieb, the associate regional director of the American Friends Service Committee, an organization that advocates for justice and human rights. “I think her decision is really powerful, and it’s hopefully going to have an impact in the much broader scheme of things. Other people in this situation can be protected. I certainly hope it forces ICE to change its practices.”

And less than 24 hours after Ragbir left jail, he and Gottlieb attended President Trump’s State of the Union speech in Washington, D.C. Gottlieb attended as a guest of Velazquez, and Ragbir joined his wife after Rep. Yvette Clarke (D–Flatbush) secured a last-minute ticket for him.

But Gottlieb said that even though she was thankful to have her husband by her side, hearing the president spew anti-immigrant rhetoric to the strong support of many lawmakers was a challenge for both of them.

“It was certainly an honor and a privilege [to attend], but it was very hard to be in that space and to hear how he portrayed immigrants,” she said. “For me, the worst part was just the people who kept standing up and applauding. It just sort of drove home the idea that he has a huge base and that people are buying what he says — whether it’s true or false, people are believing it — and that’s where our real struggle is.”

President Trump’s false statements about the visa lottery system and family reunification — along with his comment that “Americans are dreamers, too” — undermined the real challenges that immigrants face, Gottlieb said.

“It felt like a direct challenge to immigrants that were present in that room,” she said. “There were a lot of Dreamers in that room, and he refused to use that word generally to describe the young people who have been here for so many years, so it was an affront.”

But Gottlieb said that even though attending the event and listening to the president’s provocations about immigrants proved difficult, she and her husband felt it was important to be present.

“It’s so fascinating to me — he rants about fake news, he just lies flat out, and people believe him. So it was particularly difficult to be there. [Ravi] hadn’t even been out of detention for 24 hours and we’re sitting in the halls of Congress listening to him spew hate and spew lies,” she said. “It felt important, as Ravi said, to be bold and defiant, but it doesn’t mean we weren’t disgusted by his comments.”

Ragbir is set to appear in federal court in New Jersey on Feb. 9, and a rally is set to occur the following day — when the Feds ordered him to report for deportation — at 9 am 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