Ravi Ragbir Celebrates a Victory

Issue 224

The long-time immigrant rights activist avoided deportation in April.

Renee Feltz May 1, 2017

With matzo crackers in hand, Rabbi Joshua Stanton led people in song at an interfaith seder on April 11, the first day of Passover. The tune was “Go Down Moses,” also known as “Let My People Go,” and the lyrics had been retouched by Paul Stein to focus on immigrant rights.

See our faces proud and strong.

Let my people stay!

All faiths and colors, we belong.

Let my people stay!

To detention, we say “No.”

All detainees, let them go,

Free to be with their family,

Let my people stay!

The gathering was originally scheduled to show support for Ravi Ragbir, head of the New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC, who was scheduled to meet that day with his deportation officer for the second time in as many months. But the check-in was reset for January 2018, when his current stay of removal expires.

“We are very grateful to have the extra time and for Ravi not to have to live with the fear they could take him in on that day,” his lawyer, Alina Das, told The Indypendent.

Ragbir’s previous check-in on March 9 drew hundreds of supporters who had vowed to accompany him again. The seder that took place instead was an opportunity to focus on the liberation marked by Passover.

First, dozens gathered outside 26 Federal Plaza to listen to several speakers, including a Mexican immigrant named Myrna, who described being separated from her U.S. citizen daughters until recently.

“It causes pain,” she said through a translator. “It has an impact on the children. It causes trauma.”

She concluded by taking out a hammer and smashing a block of ice — a reference to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE — which she had brought with her and incorporated into the informal ceremony.

“The law, like a block of ice, at first seems solid and impenetrable,” noted Rabbi Stanton.

Leaving behind the melting shards, the group walked to New York Law School. It included members of SEIU, congregants from Judson Memorial Church, law students and friends who had traveled from as far away as Boston.

“I feel very strong,” Ragbir told people as they gathered to hear an update from him and sip kosher grape juice. “I am not doing this alone.”

He then shared more good news by calling up to the front of the room his friend, Ramesh Palaniandi, a New Sanctuary member who met with his deportation agent on the same day as Ragbir in March, and was detained. He explained that Palaniandi had been released and reunited with his wife just days before.

“It is hard to fight without support,” Palaniandi noted, acknowledging protests Ragbir helped lead to call for his release.

Perhaps the most touching moment came when Rabbi Stanton urged the room of mixed ages, ethnicities and backgrounds to “pause and imagine what would be enough if we had a righteous society that loved and respected immigrants” — the theme of the Passover song, “Dayenu,” which roughly means “it would have been enough.” Then he welcomed their responses.

“Families undivided!” said one.

“Welcome for the refugees!” said another.

“Opened hearts,” said the final person.

“If only we. . . dared to dream,” concluded Rabbi Stanton.

The New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC offers trainings in accompaniment, sanctuary, asylum and legal rights for immigrants. 


Photo: Ravi Ragbir at a rally thrown by supporters in March. Credit: Peter Rugh.

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