Prominent community activist Ravi Ragbir, executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, was arrested in New York City Jan. 11 during a routine check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and ordered immediately deported.
Hundreds of people – including several Indian Americans – gathered in front of the Jacob Javits Federal Building where Ragbir was detained. Two New York city councilmen – Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams – were handcuffed and taken into custody, along with 16 others.
“Ravi Ragbir is an extraordinary man, beloved in his community and dedicated to fighting for immigrant rights. Today, after more than two decades of living in this country, he was detained by ICE and removed in an ambulance,” said Williams in a tweet confirming his arrest.
“This is not how you treat people who are protesting for human rights. This is not what democracy looks like. We can’t call ourselves progressives and pro-immigrants when the NYPD is doing chokehold to us,” said Rodriguez after his arrest.
Vivek Trivedi, Indian American communications director for South Asian Americans Leading Together, alleged to India-West that protestors were “dragged through the streets” by New York police. Another protest was scheduled for the same day, 5 p.m. Eastern Time, at the ICE detention center on 201 Varick St., in New York City, where Ragbir is being held.
Ragbir, a Trinidad and Tobago native of Indian descent, arrived in the U.S. in 1991 on a visitor’s visa. In 1994, he became a lawful permanent resident.
In 2006, Ragbir was ordered by an immigration judge to be detained and deported, stemming from a 2001 conviction of wire fraud – an aggravated felony. He spent 22 months in immigration detention.
Ragbir was then granted a stay of deportation until 2018 by ICE officers who used prosecutorial discretion. He was mandated to periodically check in with ICE. For a number of years, Ragbir’s check-ins were routine. But on March 9, shortly after President Donald Trump took office, Ragbir returned from a check-in telling local press he was required to attend the next check-in on April 11 with his travel documents.
“It means one thing, right?” Ragbir told The Villager newspaper. “I have the knife of the guillotine over my head.”
Trivedi told India-West that after Ragbir was released from immigration detention in 2008, he was inspired by his experiences while incarcerated to speak out on prison reform and immigrant rights.
“Ravi has served as a leader in the immigrant community, creating channels for access to information and legal resources. He is an inspiring leader for the immigrants’ rights movement, one that we need now more than ever,” said Trivedi, noting that in 2017, Ragbir received SAALT’s “Changemakers” award, alongside Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Zahra Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations; law professor Jayesh Rathod; and Gurbani Kaur.
“Ravi’s deportation would be a colossal loss for so many people,” he said.
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.
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.