Activists and ICE Face Off Over Detained Immigrant Leader

Activists and ICE Face Off Over Detained Immigrant Leader

Originally published by The New York Times

An escalating legal battle played out on Friday in the case of Ravi Ragbir, an immigrant rights activist whose detention on Thursday by federal immigration authorities sparked protests that led to the arrest of 18 people, including members of the New York City Council.

Mr. Ragbir, 53, the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, had shown up for a check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Thursday morning, at the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building in Lower Manhattan. When officials told him that he was going to be detained and deported, Mr. Ragbir fainted, his wife, Amy Gottlieb, said.

That is when events turned chaotic.

His lawyer from New York University Immigrant Rights Clinic, Alina Das, said that as he was regaining consciousness she argued that she was still pursuing legal remedies for Mr. Ragbir. She said that Scott Mechkowski, the assistant field office director for ICE, dismissed her arguments and had officers handcuff Mr. Ragbir.

An ambulance called for Mr. Ragbir was met with angry protesters as it left the federal building. The protest extended onto Broadway and toward City Hall and council members Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane D. Williams were among the 18 arrested.

Ms. Gottlieb rode to Lower Manhattan Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian in the ambulance with Mr. Ragbir, she said. There, Ms. Gottlieb said, she was told to get out of the ambulance, which then left with Mr. Ragbir inside. Ms. Gottlieb learned later that it had taken him to a hospital devoid of protesters, Bellevue Hospital Center, for evaluation. From there, the New York Police Department provided an escort for federal immigration vehicles to the Holland Tunnel; unbeknown to his wife, lawyer and supporters, Mr. Ragbir was soon on a plane to Miami, where he was placed in a federal detention center.

Late Thursday night, in response to a lawsuit brought by Mr. Ragbir’s lawyers, a Federal District Court judge in Manhattan granted him a temporary stay of removal and a hearing on Jan. 29 to determine whether the agents were right to detain him.

The judge, Katherine B. Forrest, ordered Mr. Ragbir to be detained in the New York area so that he could be near his lawyer and family. On Friday, the government contested the order. A hearing that will deal with whether he can be brought back from Miami will be held in the District Court of the Southern District of New York on Tuesday.

Mr. Ragbir became an immigrant rights activist because of his own case. He came to the United States in 1991 from Trinidad and Tobago. He had been a lawful permanent resident when he was convicted of wire fraud in 2000. After he served his sentence, Mr. Ragbir was ordered deported in 2006 and detained by immigration officials.

In 2011, the New York field office of ICE granted him a stay of removal. Last April, he was granted an extension of that stay, but only until Jan. 19, eight days after his check-in.

Mr. Ragbir was not the only high-profile immigrant rights leader arrested in a one-week span. On Thursday night, immigration authorities detained Eliseo Jurado, the husband of Ingrid Latorre, who is fighting deportation as she takes sanctuary in a Colorado church.

Last week, a co-founder of New Sanctuary in New York was detained; Jean Montrevil, a native of Haiti, was picked up near his home in Far Rockaway, Queens, two weeks before a scheduled check-in.

“It seems really clear to us that this is an escalation of retaliation, not just against individual rights leaders, but against the right of the movement to exist,” said Mary Small, the policy director for Detention Watch Network, an immigrant rights group.

Rachael Yong Yow, a spokeswoman for the New York field office of ICE, said in a statement on Thursday that in the last 12 years Mr. Ragbir’s immigration case has undergone extensive judicial review at multiple levels.

“In each review, the courts have uniformly held that Mr. Ragbir does not have a legal basis to remain in the U.S.,” she said. “He has since exhausted his petitions and appeals through the immigration courts, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the U.S. District Court. He will remain in custody pending removal to Trinidad.”

Ms. Gottlieb said she understood the legal disagreements over the case, but questioned the government’s lack of transparency in its operations.

“Basic human decency requires that his wife and lawyers know where he is, so that we don’t live in a country where people are whisked away to secret facilities,” Ms. Gottlieb said.

Ms. Yong Yow declined to comment on the pending hearing.

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