NEW YORK – Trinidad-born immigrant rights activist Ravi Ragbir issued a message of resistance against the forces trying to deport him and others as he returned last Thursday to the site here of his January 11 arrest.
“There is a psychological warfare out there, and they want us to be weak,” said Ragbir outside 26 Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan where he was arrested.
“They want us to cave . . . so our spirits are broken.”
Ragbir, 43, was released Monday from US federal detention following a federal judge’s ruling that keeping him behind bars was “unnecessarily cruel.”
The executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition was arrested and locked up last month after appearing for a regularly scheduled check-in with immigration officials in lower Manhattan.
“It’s been a long, long journey,” said Ragbir, who migrated to the US 27 years ago. “As I continued to walk, I got stronger and stronger.”
Ragbir and about 50 other protesters joined in the so-called “Jericho Walk” outside the federal building. The demonstration is modelled after the Israelites’ march around the city of Jericho as written in the Bible.
After seven single-file trips around the block, the protesters stopped and screamed at the building.
“It feels good to march for him, but it feels better marching with him,” said the Rev. Micah Bucey of the Judson Memorial Church. “We’re trepidatious, because we don’t know what the next steps are. But for now, we celebrate the justice has been served. We march with our feet, we pray with our feet.”
Despite his release from detention, Ragbir could face detention as soon as next week − with federal authorities ordering him to report for deportation on February 10.
He and his wife attended the State of the Union address in Washington one day after he was set free.
In an impassioned rebuke of the Trump administration’s immigration policies, Judge Katherine B. Forrest, a Federal District Court judge in Manhattan, ordered the immediate release of Ragbir, calling his abrupt detention on January 11 unconstitutional and cruel.
Judge Forrest, of the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York, said Ragbir, who has been ordered to leave the US by immigration officials, should have been entitled to “the freedom to say goodbye.”
“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,” said Forrest, reading from the seven-page written order she delivered soon after oral arguments.
“We are not that country; and woe be the day that we become that country under a fiction that laws allow it,” she added. “The court finds that when this country allowed (Ragbir) to become a part of our community fabric, allowed him to build a life with and among us and to enjoy the liberties and freedom that come with that, it committed itself to allowance of an orderly departure when the time came, and it committed itself to avoidance of unnecessary cruelty when the time came.
Ragbir, who came to the United States in 1991, had been a lawful permanent resident when he was convicted of wire fraud in 2000.
After he served his sentence, it said he was ordered deported in 2006 and detained by immigration officials, then released on an order of supervision while his case moved through the immigration courts.
In 2011, the New York field office of the ICE granted him a stay of removal, allowing him to remain in the country. Ragbir was also given several extensions of the stay, the last set to expire on January 19.
But ICE decided to detain him eight days early, at a check-in at the US federal immigration building in Lower Manhattan.
Federal prosecutors argued they did so because ICE had obtained travel documents from Trinidad and Tobago.
The agency flew him to a detention facility in Miami without initially notifying his lawyer and wife; the court later ordered him back to the New York area.
Because Ragbir was not a flight risk or a danger to the community, his lawyers argued that he should not have been detained.