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‘The Constitution commands better’: Judge halts deportation of prominent immigrant rights activist

Ravi Ragbir was detained earlier this month, triggering clashes between police and demonstrators.

Activists protest the attempted deportation of Ragbir in New York. CREDIT: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Activists protest the attempted deportation of Ragbir in New York. CREDIT: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A federal judge ordered the release of Ravi Ragbir, an immigrant rights activist who was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents during what was supposed to be a routine check-in earlier in January.

Judge Katherine B. Forrest ruled Monday that Ragbir’s due process rights had been violated by ICE’s “abrupt” and “unnecessary” detention. “Taking such a man, and there are many such men and women like him, and subjecting him to what is rightfully understood as no different or better than penal detention is certainly cruel,” Forrest wrote. “We as a country need and must not act so. The Constitution commands better.”

Ragbir, who immigrated from Trinidad and Tobago in 1991 and has been a permanent resident in the U.S. since 1994, was suddenly told that he would be deported during his routine check-in with ICE on January 11 — which caused him to collapse.

News of his detention drew outrage and protesters lined the street outside the Javits Federal Building in Manhattan to prevent Ragbir from being taken away. Eighteen people were arrested, including two members of the New York City Council.

The nature of Ragbir’s detention has infuriated activists, as well as a number of elected officials. Last week, 30 Congressional Democrats and 1,800 community organizations and individuals sent letters to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen calling for Ragbir’s release.

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“There is, and ought to be in this great country, the freedom to say goodbye,” Forrest added. “It ought not to be — and it has never before been — that those who have lived without incident in this country for years are subjected to treatment we associate with regimes we revile as unjust, regimes where those who have long lived in a country may be taken without notice from streets, home and work. And sent away.”

Lawyers for ICE say they will consider appealing the ruling. Ragbir’s family and lawyers traveled to Orange County Correctional Facility Monday to bring him back home to New York City. The activist could still face deportation, but the ruling is a blow to ICE’s increasingly aggressive and cruel deportation practices.

The attempted deportation of Ragbir is only the latest example of ICE agents targeting immigration activists under the Trump administration. In their January 26 letter to Secretary Nielsen, the 30 legislators expressed their concern about ICE targeting immigration activists. “Despite their goodwill, the majority of these leaders face separation from the communities they call home,” the letter read, noting the cases of Jean Montrevil, Eliseo Jurado, and Maru Mora-Villalpando.

“There’s a clear, appalling pattern of ICE targeting leaders in the immigrant community who are speaking out against President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda,” New York Reps. Nydia Velázquez (D) and Joe Crowley (D) said in a statement. “This practice is morally unacceptable and has a chilling effect on leaders who stand up for their rights and their neighbors. We intend to hold DHS and ICE accountable to find out why this is happening.”

Velázquez also invited Ragbir’s wife, Amy Gottlieb, to attend Trump’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday evening. Gottlieb said it was likely to be a “fascinating experience.”