US Court Orders Release of Trinidadian Immigration Activist Ravi Ragbir


Judge Blasts ICE for ‘Cruel’ Tactics

NEW YORK – A United States Federal District Court judge has ordered the immediate release of a Trinidadian-born immigrant rights activist, Ravi Ragbir, calling his abrupt detention earlier this month as unconstitutional and cruel.

Judge Katherine B. Forrest, of the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York, in an impassioned rebuke of the Trump administration’s immigration policy, said Ragbir, 43, 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 said Monday.

Thunderous cheers and clapping erupted in the 23rd floor courtroom packed to overflow capacity with clergy and members of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, the immigrant rights organization where Ragbir is the executive director.

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.

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 “ground breaking.

“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 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.

After he served his sentence he was ordered deported in 2006 and detained by immigration officials, then released on an order of supervision while his case moved through the immigration courts.

In 2011, the New York field office of the ICE granted him a stay of removal, allowing him to remain in the country. Ragbir was given several extensions of the stay, the last set to expire on January 19.

But ICE decided to detain him eight days early and Federal prosecutors argued they did so because ICE had obtained travel documents from Trinidad and Tobago.

But the activist was flown to a detention facility in Miami without initially notifying his lawyer and wife; the court later ordered him back to the New York area.

Because Ragbir was not a flight risk or a danger to the community, his lawyers argued that he should not have been detained. – CMC