Activists, ICE face off over detained Trinidadian community leader

NEW YORK, Jan. 13,  CMC – An escalating legal battle played out on Friday in the case of Trinidadian Ravi Ragbir, an immigrant rights activist whose detention on Thursday by US federal immigration authorities sparked protests that led to the arrest of 18 people,  including members of the New York City Council.

Ragbir, 53, the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City,had shown up for a check-in with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency on Thursday morning, at the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building in Lower Manhattan.

According ot his wife, Amy Gottlieb, when officials told him that he was going to be detained and deported, Ragbir fainted.

When events turned chaotic. Ragbir’s 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 Ragbir.

The attorney stated that Scott Mechkowski, the assistant field office director for ICE, dismissed her arguments and had officers handcuff Ragbir.

The police report that an ambulance called for 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 Caribbean American Jumaane D. Williams were among the 18 arrested.

Late Thursday in response to a lawsuit brought by Ragbir’s lawyers, a Federal District Court judge in Manhattan granted him a temporary stay of removal and a hearing on January 19 to determine whether the agents were right to detain him.

The judge, Katherine B. Forrest, ordered Ragbir to be detained in the New York area so that he could be near his lawyer and family, however on Friday, the paper said the government contested the order.

The New York Times reports that the hearing on whether he can be brought back from Miami will be held in the District Court of the Southern District of New York on Tuesday.

It said 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, 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 January 19, eight days after his check-in.

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, 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 US,” she said. “He has since exhausted his petitions and appeals through the immigration courts, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the US District Court. He will remain in custody pending removal to Trinidad.”

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,”Gottlieb said.

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