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Prominent Immigrant Rights Leaders Fight Looming Deportations

Camille Baker and Emily C. Bell Jan 16

Update (Jan. 17): A judge Wednesday ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement to return Ravi Ragbir from Florida to be held at a detention center in the New York City area as he appeals his case. On Tuesday, Jean Montrevil was deported to Port-au-Prince. 

Hundreds gathered in Washington Square Park Monday afternoon for a vigil in support of detained immigrant rights leaders Ravi Ragbir and Jean Montrevil that coincided with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Activists, faith leaders, students and families with young children circled the park in a silent “Jericho Walk” to call for Ragbir and Montrevil’s release. They then packed into Judson Memorial Church nearby for a press conference, where a member of Ragbir’s Defense Committee read aloud his “Letter From an Immigration Jail,” an allusion to King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

Ragbir, executive director of the interfaith immigrant rights group New Sanctuary Coalition, was detained during a check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Thursday in Manhattan. He has lived in the United States for 27 years and faces deportation to his native Trinidad and Tobago in connection with wire fraud charges from 2002, for which he already served time in prison.

According to advocates on Ravi’s Defense Committee, Ragbir is being held in the Krome Detention Center in Florida. A hearing will be held today to determine whether ICE lawfully removed Ragbir from New York State. Another hearing set for January 29 will determine if ICE’s plans to deport Ragbir are lawful.

Amy Gottlieb, Ragbir’s wife and Associate Director of the American Friends Service Committee, said she had just returned from Miami, where Ragbir is now being held.

“I was able to be with him for an hour through plexiglass, so dehumanizing, so horrifying, so miserable, but it warmed my heart to be able to see him,” Gottlieb said. “We are all here to fight, fight, fight against this system, against the unfairness, against the racist policies that are driving these detentions and these deportations.”

‘We need to speak about changing the system so that no one has to face this type of harm, not just for me but for all the families who face being torn apart.’

Rhiya Trivedi, part of Ravi’s Defense Committee, read his message from jail in which he told supporters he was “doing okay.”

“It was a wild and crazy ride,” Ragbir wrote. “Every moment was uncertain except the certainty that they wanted me gone. I’m still here because of all of you. I want everyone to stand strong. At this moment, we need to speak about changing the system so that no one has to face this type of harm, not just for me but for all the families who face being torn apart.”

Ragbir’s legal team also addressed the press conference.

“[Ravi Ragbir] would be the first person to tell all of you that the law will not save us… It has always been used as a tool for oppression,” noted Alina Das, co-director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at New York University and one of Ragbir’s attorneys. “As his lawyers, we know that if we use the law correctly, if we can find some justice, the law might give us some time for us to save ourselves. So that is what we are trying to do in the courts.”

Jean Montrevil, who legally immigrated to the United States from Haiti in 1986 and co-founded the New Sanctuary Coalition, was arrested by ICE a week prior to Ragbir, on January 3. His attorney says he now faces imminent deportation, all because of a single drug offense that occurred in 1990 for which he served five years in prison.

Janay Cauthen, Montrevil’s former wife, called for his release Monday with their son by her side.

“We believe that he could be on the plane back to Haiti as early as [Tuesday],” Cauthen told The Indypendent. “I want people to know that we all are human. He paid the price for making a mistake in the past… He was a knucklehead on the street, made a bad choice. It’s double jeopardy.”

Montrevil’s attorney, Joshua Bardavid, said an emergency motion for a stay of deportation had been filed and called for organizing to continue.

“We need to continue to fight both legally, and [engage] the activism and the passion of the people in this room to see that Jean’s case is resolved successfully,” Bardavid said.

Ragbir’s arrest occurred the same day as the detention of Eliseo Jurado, the spouse of a leader in Colorado’s sanctuary movement.

Meanwhile, the fallout from Thursday’s protest against Ragbir’s detention continues. Legal support is gathering for the 18 demonstrators arrested and Mayor Bill de Blasio told WNYC the city will investigate allegations that NYPD pushed and punched demonstrators. New York City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez was among those arrested, and wrote on Twitter that officers put him into a “chokehold.”

The names of those who were arrested were read aloud and honored Monday afternoon. New York City Councilmember Jumaane Williams, who was also arrested, gave a fiery speech about Trump’s rhetoric, racism and the impact on immigrants before announcing during the press conference his plans to explore running for lieutenant governor.

“We don’t need people who respond to the political winds,” Williams said. “We need people who make political winds and we in Judson Memorial are those people. We stand for Ravi, we stand for Jean, we will not be dissuaded. I guarantee you we will win this fight.”

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Photo: Father Juan Carlos Ruiz was arrested along with 17 others who protested Ravi Ragbir’s detention on Jan. 11, and said he was “pushed around” by NYPD. A co-founder of the New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC, Ruiz was joined by other members of the coalition as he spoke Monday. Credit: Lydia McMullen-Laird.