Solidarity got Ravi out of detention

February 5, 2018

Carlos Perez reports from New York City on the protests that helped win the release of a well-known immigrant rights activist who was facing imminent deportation.

RAVI RAGBIR, a well-known New York City immigrant rights advocate and executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, was released from detention on January 29.

In a scathing decision, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest ruled Ragbir's detention to be in violation of due process and called it "unusually cruel."

The threat of Ragbir's deportation has not been lifted--Forrest merely ordered his release from detention with a temporary stay, though this means that he and his supporters can continue to work on his defense.

Ragbir is victim of the federal government's crackdown on immigrants, and he joins a growing number of prominent activists who are being targeted for detention by the Trump administration.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials detained Ragbir on January 11 when he reported for a routine check-in eight days before his last stay of removal was set to expire. Ravi was handcuffed, arrested and immediately flown to the Krome Detention Center in Florida.

Moments after he was detained, the New Sanctuary Coalition kicked into action. Supporters of Ragbir mobilized demonstrations outside of the courthouse to demand his release, physically encircling the ICE headquarters in lower Manhattan, holding signs and chanting slogans in support of immigrants.

Protesters demand the release of prominent immigrant rights activist Ravi Ragbir in NYC
Protesters demand the release of prominent immigrant rights activist Ravi Ragbir in NYC

The day of his release was no different, as supporters packed into the jammed courthouse to hear the ruling. When the judge announced the decision, the room erupted into cheers.

"We've all seen that our immigration system is not treating people fairly, and the judge saw that and called it out," said Ragbir's wife and immigrant rights attorney Amy Gottlieb.

The tireless work and support of a mobilized immigrant rights movement that drew attention to Ravi's case and demanded his release is ultimately responsible for his release.

Without grassroots organizations such as the New Sanctuary Coalition and the large number of dedicated activists fighting around this issue, Ragbir, Maru Mora-Villalpando, Claudia Rueda and the millions of immigrants they fight for would find it impossible to face down the deportation machine.

Boston-area activist Siham Byah was detained late last year in a very similar manner as Ragbir and ultimately deported to Morocco, where she continues to fight for her freedom.

Byah said of Ragbir's detention, "This is a systematic attack on people's rights to opinions, especially when said opinions highlight the cruelty of fascism in the USA. I was the first to be targeted and won't be the last if we don't all collectively stand up and refuse to be treated this way. My unconditional solidarity with Ravi Ragbir!"

THE FIGHT for justice for Ragbir isn't over, however.

The case presented to Judge Forrest didn't concern Ragbir's immigration status, only his detention by ICE. The judge's ruling provides Ragbir the "freedom to say goodbye"--that is, the right to make the "proper" arrangements. But he is still under threat of deportation. In her opinion, the judge stated:

The process that was due here is not [the] process that will allow him to stay indefinitely--those processes have been had. The process that is due here is the allowance that he know and understand that the time has come, that he must organize his affairs, and that he do so by a certain date. That is what is due.

Thus, Ragbir still has a deportation threat hanging over his head. His appeal process is ongoing, and he's scheduled to appear again in court in February. Supporters will have to build on the grassroots organizing that helped to win his release to end that threat once and for all.

As November elections approach, the pressure will be on for immigrant rights supporters to shift their focus away from activism and toward getting Democrats elected, but it will be important to continue building our activist organizations and networks independent of both political parties.

Many immigrant rights activists learned this lesson after the massive demonstrations against the anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner Bill in 2006, when the bulk of the movement laid their hopes on Barack Obama's election in 2008 to protect immigrants.

Once in power, Obama not only failed to protect the millions of immigrants who put their faith in him, but actively pursued policies that empowered immigration and border officials to hunt them down. The result is that Obama was responsible for more deportations than any other president.

Ravi Ragbir's release is a victory and should be celebrated by anyone who fights for immigrant rights. How it was achieved provides important lessons for continuing the fight for Ravi and building the larger movement for immigrant rights: only by organizing and acting do we have a chance against the deportation machine.

But no judge alone will stop deportations. Forrest has not even assured Ragbir's safety, as welcome as her judgment removing him from detention is. Plus, we know that depending on "pro-immigrant" Democrats to protect immigrants ensures that deportations will continue under the cover of "responsible government."

This victory needs to be pushed further, with the aim of building a movement large and powerful enough to keep Ragbir here in New York City, where he belongs--and to challenge every deportation attempt.

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