In returning to the site of his Jan. 11 arrest, Trinidadian-born immigrant rights activist Ravi Ragbir issued a message of resistance against the forces trying to deport him and others.
“There is a psychological warfare out there, and they want us to be weak,” said Ragbir outside 26 Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan on Thursday. “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, according to the New York Daily News.
“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 modeled 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, the Daily News said.
“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 Feb. 10, the Daily News said.
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 Jan. 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 Judge 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.
“By denying (Ragbir) these rights, the government has acted wrongly,” Judge Forrest continued.
Ragbir was released Monday night from the Orange County Correctional Facility in Goshen, Orange County, New York, and will continue to fight his deportation on several fronts, according to the New York Times.
In a stinging response, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency described Ragbir as “an aggravated felon” in reference to his wire fraud conviction in 2000, saying it was “actively exploring” an appeal.
“The agency is deeply disturbed by the harmful personal attacks some Congress members have leveled against career law enforcement personnel, whose sworn duty is enforcing laws enacted by Congress itself,” the ICE statement said.
“The agency is similarly concerned with the tone of the district court’s decision, which equates the difficult work ICE professionals do every day to enforce our immigration laws with ‘treatment we associate with regimes we revile as unjust,’” it added.
US federal prosecutors had asked Judge Forrest, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2011, to keep Ragbir in detention, but she rejected the request.
Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor at Cornell Law School in New York, called the decision “groundbreaking.”
“It holds that the Constitution requires the government to give people subject to a final deportation order time to arrange their affairs,” he said, cautioning, however, that the judge’s decision was “long on rhetoric and short on careful legal analysis. I worry that a higher court may reverse.”
Judge Forrest acknowledged, according to the Times, that the US government’s labyrinthine statutes allowed for the detention of people with what are known as final orders of removal, meaning that they have no further appeals in the immigration courts and may be deported.
But that did not mean that the government could deny due process, she said.
“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,” Judge Forrest said. “The Constitution commands better.”
Ragbir, who came to the United States in 1991, had been a lawful permanent resident when he was convicted of wire fraud in 2000, the Times said.