Ravi Ragbir, an immigration activist targeted for deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), was granted a temporary stay from removal on Friday (February 9) after he sued the federal government on First Amendment grounds. Ragbir argued that ICE officials targeted him because of his activism.
The lawsuit, filed at a federal district court in New York City, accuses Trump administration officials of selectively enforcing immigration laws against activists. From the suit:
Federal immigration authorities have specifically targeted prominent and outspoken immigrant rights activists across the country on the basis of their speech and political advocacy on behalf of immigrants’ rights and social justice. Mr. Ragbir is not alone. Plantiff immigrants’ rights organizations have joined this lawsuit because they too have seen their leading advocates targeted because of their advocacy.
ICE detained Ragbir on January 11 in New York City after a routine check-in with the agency. After being flown to Miami without notice to his wife or lawyers, and then flown back to New York, Ragbir was released on January 29. The judge who ordered his release called his detention "unnecessarily cruel," adding that it raised "grave concerns" that Ragbir was targeted because of immigration advocacy.
In a written statement to Colorlines last week, ICE officials denied that the agency targeted Ragbir for his activism. "Over the last 12 years, Mr. Ragbir’s immigration case has undergone extensive judicial review at multiple levels of the nation’s judicial system, including both immigration courts and federal appeals courts," ICE public affairs officer Rachael Yong Yow said in an email. "In an exercise of discretion, the agency had previously allowed him to remain free from custody with periodic check-ins, while his case was under court review. He has since exhausted his petitions and appeals through the immigration courts, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the U.S. District Court."
But immigration advocacy groups say Ragbir is not alone, that ICE has recently targeted several immigration activists across the country. They include Maru Mora Villapando, a Mexico native who has led hunger strikes against the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. A month ago, ICE detained Eliseo Jurado on 10-year old driving infractions. Jurado, who has since been released, is the husband of a Peru native claiming sanctuary in a Boulder, Colorado, church to avoid deportation. And Jean Montrevil, Ragbir’s former colleage at the rights group New Sanctuary Coalition, was deported to Haiti in mid-January after spending three decades in the U.S.
"We are outraged by the intentional targeting of immigrant rights activists by Immigration and Customs Enforcement," Mary Small, policy director at Detention Watch Network and a plaintiff in Ragbir’s lawsuit, said in a statement. "The right to outspoken political opposition is a cornerstone of a functioning democracy, and attempts by the federal government to suppress dissent by targeting activists points to a broader threat that should concern us all."
On Saturday (February 10), hundreds of demonstrators gathered in lower Manhattan to rally in support of Ragbir and to call on members of Congress to defend Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, the Obama-era initiative that protects some 800,000 young immigrants from deportation.
"We know there is a movement to remove people of color, to learn that there is an ethnic cleansing being created by this administration," Ragbir told the crowd, according to The Associated Press. “And it’s very hard words, but let’s be real about what we are seeing."
Per Democracy Now!, ICE officials scheduled Ragbir’s next check-in with the agency for March 15.