We stand with Ravi Ragbir

January 15, 2018

Melanie Williams reports from New York City on the campaign to protest the detention of Ravi Ragbir and the targeting of all immigrant rights activists.

FOR RAVI Ragbir, his family and supporters, their worst fear came true on January 11, when the prominent New York City immigrant rights activist was detained during a routine check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.

But supporters of Ragbir, who is executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, have been preparing for this day. Hundreds of Ravi's supporters had already encircled ICE's New York City headquarters when he went inside for his appointment.They conducted a silent Jericho walk while holding signs reading "No walls, no borders," "No deportations" and "No one is illegal."

When ICE officials told Ragbir that he would be detained and faced imminent deportation to Trinidad, he fainted, according to his lawyer, Alina Das, and his wife, Amy Gottlieb. The word went out on social media, and still more demonstrators gathered outside the building.

Ragbir was handcuffed and placed in an ambulance, with his wife accompanying him. Believing the ambulance was taking Ragbir to the Varick Street Detention Center, demonstrators tried to block its path, chanting Ravi's name.

Ravi Ragbir
Ravi Ragbir

NYPD officers responded violently, shoving people out of the way. Some demonstrators sat down in front of the ambulance, including New York City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez, who wrote on Twitter later that the NYPD put him in a chokehold. City Council member Jumaane Williams was also arrested and was captured on video being cuffed against the hood of a car.

The police also arrested New Sanctuary Coalition faith leader Father Juan Carlos Ruiz, who shouted, "We want Ravi with us. He is family. He needs to be free," while zip-tied behind an NYPD van. Some 18 demonstrators were arrested in the protest.

The New Sanctuary Coalition organized a second demonstration at 5 p.m. outside of the Varick Street Detention Center. Again, hundreds of supporters gathered, chanting, "I stand with Ravi," "Not one more," "ICE out now" and "Where is Ravi?"

Leaders of the New Sanctuary Coalition and those close with Ravi spoke at the rally. "The NYC new sanctuary movement ain't going nowhere except to be stronger, more vital, more strategic, and I hope all those policemen on that street [gesturing to the police present] would like to become a member of NYC and stop doing ICE's business," said one speaker.

"This is an international disgrace," said New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. "We are here to demand Ravi's release. This is the definition of shitty. You got that, Trump? We are here to support Ravi and his family. I think of the children who have been separated from their mothers and fathers. This is not what America is about."

The demonstrators then solemnly walked around the building twice, ending by placing their hands on the detention center and calling out the names of New Yorkers recently detained by ICE agents. The final chant of the rally was "Free Ravi now!"

RAGBIR IMMIGRATED to the U.S. from Trinidad and became a green-card holder in 1994.

In 2001, after the mortgage company that he worked for was investigated for fraudulent loan applications, he was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. In 2006, after three years of house arrest and 30 months in federal prison, Ragbir was given a deportation order without a hearing. He has been fighting it ever since, and is required to regularly check in with ICE.

Ragbir is married to a U.S. citizen and all of his children were born in the U.S.

Ragbir's wife reported that the ambulance that transported Ravi and her away from ICE headquarters dropped her off at Lower Manhattan Hospital of New York-Presbyterian. She found out later that the ambulance then took Ravi to Bellevue Hospital, where there were fewer protesters.

The next time she heard from Ravi, he was calling her from a detention center in Miami, Florida.

Ragbir's arrest came just one week after the arrest of another prominent immigrant rights leader and co-founder of New Sanctuary Coalition, Jean Montrevil. On January 3, ICE agents arrested Montrevil outside his home while he was on his way to work.

The arrest came as a shock to Montrevil, a transportation company owner who legally emigrated to the U.S. from Haiti in 1986. He has a pending motion with the Board of Immigration Appeals over a 1990 conviction on drug charges, and had been scheduled for a routine ICE check-in on January 16.

After a January 5 rally demanding Montrevil's release, he was flown to the same detention center in Miami, Florida, where he remains, presently facing deportation to Haiti.

THE TRUMP administration hasn't just been excessively targeting immigrants with criminal records, regardless of their immigration status. Operation Janus is even targeting naturalized citizens for deportation.

But the arrests of Ragbir and Montrevil lead many to believe that ICE agents are specifically targeting sanctuary activists who council and support undocumented immigrants threatened with deportation. "I could not help but think that this has to be in response for some of the work that he's done," Ravi's wife Amy said in an interview with Spectrum News.

The strategy of deporting a well-connected community member and outspoken immigrant rights activists is simple: If it can happen to Ravi or Jean--people who hundreds will come out to fight for--then it can happen to anyone, and it will.

This is why we must stand with Ravi, Jean and all others who face deportation.

They belong here in their homes, with their families. We need them here to be integral members of our communities and continue the work they've been doing so that not one more person will be separated from their lives and their loved ones by deportation.

As a result of a lawsuit brought by Ravi's lawyers, late on the night of his arrest, a federal district court judge granted Ravi a temporary stay of removal and ordered a hearing on January 29 to determine whether the agents were right to detain him.

A hearing is scheduled for January 16 that will decide whether Ravi will be returned to New York for his detention--the government contested the judge's order that Ravi be brought back from Miami to be near his lawyer and family.

To continue to demand justice for both Ravi and Jean, the New Sanctuary Coalition has called on supporters to participate in weekly protests outside of Varick Street Detention Center, on Thursdays at 5 p.m. Supporters can stay up to date on Ravi's case and future calls to action by following #IStandWithRavi.

And you can organize with your local immigrant rights organizations, as ICE is increasing its activities across the country under the Trump administration, deporting beloved family and community members.

We must continue standing up and demanding an end to ICE and to deportations.

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