At a Jan. 16 hearing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, New York, attorneys for Immigration and Customs Enforcement told a federal judge that they could not explain why prominent community activist Ravi Ragbir was arrested by ICE despite having several days remaining on his two-year reprieve from deportation.

Ragbir, who is of Indian origin but hails from Trinidad and Tobago, was arrested Jan. 12 morning during a routine check-in with ICE (see earlier India-West story here). He was then taken to a facility in Miami, Florida. His defense team argued in court last week that Ragbir, the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, should be returned to New York as his case was being adjudicated. Federal judge Katherine Forrest agreed and mandated that Ragbir be returned to New York.

Ragbir, 53, entered the U.S. in 1991 on a visitor’s visa. He was able to obtain a green card three years later, but lost his legal permanent resident status several years later after being convicted of wire fraud. In 2016, Ragbir was granted a two-year reprieve from deportation, which was scheduled to expire Jan. 19. ICE  attorneys said in court Jan. 16 that they could not explain why Ragbir was arrested, despite having several days before his reprieve expired.

“We know why he was detained — he was detained to effect removal,” said assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Waterman. “What we don't know is why they chose to do it now,” said the attorney, as reported by the New York Daily News.

Waterman could not be reached for comment by press time.

Kirk Cheyfitz, spokesman for the New Sanctuary Coalition, told India-West: “That has been the central question for us. Why was Ravi arrested when he still had several days on his reprieve. Judge Forrest asked why he was arrested at this juncture. The lawyer said he had no idea.”

“We’re extremely concerned that Ravi and so many others are being targeted for helping people assert their rights,” said Cheyfitz, noting that the founder of the New Sanctuary Coalition, Jean Montrevil, was deported last week and returned to his native country, Haiti. Montrevil has lived in the U.S. since 1986; he and Ragbir are considered two of the most prominent immigrant rights advocates in New York.

“ICE has been depriving people of their due process by separating them from their families and deporting them as quickly as possible,” said Cheyfitz, noting that he has received stories from around the U.S. of similar ICE actions. He noted that Montrevil was deported with no notice to his attorneys, despite the fact that he had legal actions pending.

Ragbir is married to Amy Gottlieb, an immigration advocate for American Friends Service Committee. The couple lives with their daughter, Deborah, in Brooklyn.

Despite being eligible to adjust his status to that of permanent resident based on his marriage, the Board of Immigration Appeals recently denied Ravi’s request for an opportunity to be heard, according to a petition on change.org.

Lakshmi Sridaran, Indian American director of National Policy and Advocacy at South Asian Americans Leading Together, told India-West that several hundred people gathered Jan. 12 evening in front of the ICE detention center in Manhattan where Ragbir was held immediately following his arrest. “It was an extremely moving mobilization. People from all backgrounds and ethnicities showed up to express solidarity and to ask ICE to return Ravi to his family.”

“Ravi has stood up and made his voice heard to gain an immigration system that represents the rights of all people,” she said.

SAALT and other organizations have started a massive campaign to get Ragbir released from ICE detention, asking community members to call the offices of Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, both of New York.

Community advocates have also flooded the phone lines of ICE’s field offices in New York demanding the release of Ragbir.

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