NEW YORK – Hundreds of protestors on Saturday rallied in lower Manhattan in support for Trinidadian immigrant rights activist Ravi Ragbir who faces deportation.
Ragbir, 53, whose detention sparked several protests last month, will be able to stay in the United States for the time being, according to a court order issued in New York on Friday.
He was detained one month ago after a routine check-in with US Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a move that sparked protests throughout New York City from supporters who called Ragbir a pillar of the community.
“They want to make America white again,” Ragbir told about 300 supporters during Saturday’s rally in Foley Square. “But America was never white in the first place.
“Am I a national security problem? “Am I colluding with Russia?” Ragbir asked. “We know that there is a movement to remove people of color, to learn that there is an ethnic cleansing being created by this administration. And it’s very hard words, but let’s be real about what we are seeing.”
Ragbir, the executive director of the New York-based New Sanctuary Coalition, and several organizations supporting him filed a lawsuit against ICE, the US Department of Homeland Security and the US Department of Justice, alleging that he was targeted because of his activism.
He was granted a stay of deportation to allow for the briefing and consideration of the suit, according to AM New York.
“Like so many people who are living in this country under the threat of deportation, I know how important it is to raise our voices against the injustices in the system,” Ragbir said in a statement. “This lawsuit is not just about me, it is about all of the members of our community who are speaking out in our struggle for immigrant rights.”
Lawyers defending Ragbir said the US government has agreed to stay Ragbir’s deportation temporarily.
“Justice was restored… at least temporarily, as Mr Ragbir is now able to remain in the United States and free until the Court reviews his constitutional claims,” said Stanton Jones of Arnold & Porter, the law firm involved in the suit, in a statement.
“If the First Amendment means anything, it means the government can’t silence immigrant-rights activists like Mr Ragbir by deporting them,” he added. “We look forward to presenting these grave constitutional claims to the Court.”
The lawsuit seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction, restraining the government from taking further action to force a deportation order against Ragbir.
It also seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction “restraining the government from selectively enforcing immigration laws against individuals based on protected political speech.”
“ICE’s targeting of immigrant-rights activists based on their protected speech and political advocacy plainly violates the First Amendment,” said Sally Pei of the law firm, Arnold & Porter, in a statement. “We intend to put an end to this vindictive practice.”
But ICE has denied targeting immigrants based on their advocacy work or comments, saying “any suggestion to the contrary is irresponsible, speculative and inaccurate.
Ragbir and the other plaintiffs on the lawsuit will have until Monday to file additional paperwork, according to the court order. The defendants will have until March 1 to file a response and the plaintiffs must file a reply by March 14, according to AM New York.
The paper said Ragbir was issued a green card in 1994 after migrating in 1991, but he was convicted of wire fraud in 2001 and served 30 months in federal prison.
He was then detained in 2006 after a judge ordered deportation because of his conviction. But he was released in 2008 when ICE determined he wasn’t a danger to the community, according to his defense team.
A challenge to that conviction also is pending in federal court, his lawyer said.
“It’s been a rough month,” Ragbir’s wife, Amy Gottlieb, told supporters at Saturday’s rally. “You might be saying wow, Amy’s finally got a smile on her face.”