Prominent immigrant rights activist Ravidath ‘Ravi’ Ragbir was released Jan. 29 from an Immigrant and Customs Enforcement detention center in Orange County, New York.

Ragbir, the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, is of Indian origin but hails from Trinidad and Tobago. He has lived in the U.S. since 1991, arriving in the country on a visitor’s visa. Ragbir attained legal permanent resident status in 1994, but lost it in 2006, following a conviction on wire fraud, which he is disputing. He currently lives with his wife Amy Gottlieb, also an immigrant rights advocate, and their daughter in Brooklyn, New York.

The civil rights activist was granted a stay of deportation until Jan.14, 2018, but was arrested Jan. 11 during a routine check-in with ICE officials (see earlier India-West story here). ICE officials during a hearing last week said they could not explain why Ragbir was arrested before his stay of deportation expired.

Hundreds of people – including Indian Americans – have protested daily Ragbir’s detention in the streets of New York. Immigrant rights organizations, including South Asian Americans Leading Together, have urged the community to flood the phone lines of their elected representatives to plead for Ragbir’s release.

Thirty members of Congress and nearly 1,800 community organizations and private individuals sent letters to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen condemning what they said was the targeting of Ragbir and other immigrant activists by ICE.

New York District Court Judge Katherine Forrest – who presided over the case – ordered Ragbir’s immediate release Jan. 29, writing a sharp rebuke to ICE in her seven-page decision.

“There is, and ought to be in this great country, the freedom to say goodbye. That is, the freedom to hug one’s spouse and children, the freedom to organize the myriad of affairs that collect over time,” said Forrest, hinting at the possibility that Ragbir could eventually be deported.

“It has never before been that those who have lived in this country without incident 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 away without notice from streets, home, and work. And sent away,” wrote Forrest.

“We are not that country and woe the day we become that country,” wrote the judge.

“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,” wrote Forrest. “We as a country need and must not act so. The Constitution commands better,” she stated, adding that Ragbir’s detention was “unnecessary.”

Will Coley, a friend of Ragbir’s who serves on his defense committee, told India-West Jan. 29 afternoon that he was “very excited and happy” that Ragbir would be released later that day. “This shows that the judge understood the case, and agreed with us that it was presumptuous of ICE to arrest Ravi while his criminal case is still pending,” he said, referring to Ragbir’s dispute over the conviction on wire fraud.

A hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 9 to review that conviction, according to Coley.

“I am disturbed at how many immigrant rights activists have been arrested at the same time,” said Coley. The founder of the New Sanctuary Coalition, Jean Montrevil, was deported in early January 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.

Gottlieb, Ragbir’s wife, said in a press statement that she is happy to have her husband home. “The judge's decision restores my faith in the power of our institutions to protect the rights of people facing such a cruel and inhumane system,” said Gottlieb, who works with the American Friends Service Committee.

“I am so thrilled that Ravi will be home with me, as he always should have been. Now the fight is to make sure Ravi can remain here with his family and continue his work to support immigrant rights in the United States,” she said.

Gottlieb had written an op-ed for The New York Times claiming that Ragbir was arrested because he was an immigration rights advocate.

In a press statement, Ragbir’s defense committee noted: “The specter of political motivations was felt in the courtroom as the parties debated why ICE had taken Mr. Ragbir into custody after previously recognizing his contributions to the community and his pending legal challenges to his removal for so many years.” Alina Das, who is representing Ragbir, stated: “Detention can never be used to silence dissent. Mr. Ragbir is a husband, father, and community leader who has worked tirelessly to advocate for justice in our immigration system. There was simply no legitimate basis to detain him.”

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