Ravi Ragbir, the immigrant rights leader who was detained for more than two weeks after he appeared for a regular check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, likened the way the Trump administration has cracked down on undocumented immigrants, particularly those of color, to “ethnic cleansing.”
“This is something we will be ashamed of in years to come,” Ragbir said over the phone Tuesday, the day after he was released from detention.
The executive director of the immigrant rights group New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, who still faces potential deportation on Feb. 10, said President Donald Trump’s message about immigrants targets black and brown people. Ragbir referenced the president’s alleged comments about preferring immigrants from countries such as Norway to immigrants from Haiti and African nations.
“When he talks about immigrants . . . it’s about certain immigrants,” he said. “We need to be defiant and to stop this crazy talk from this administration.”
Early in his presidency, Trump issued an executive order that said ICE should prioritize deporting undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of a crime. That resulted in 143,470 ICE arrests in the past fiscal year, the highest number in three fiscal years, and a 9 percent increase in arrests leading to removal, according to the agency’s statistics.
Ragbir, who came to the United States from Trinidad in 1991 and got a green card in 1994, was convicted of wire fraud in 2001. He was detained in 2006 for nearly two years after a judge ordered deportation because of his conviction, but he was released when ICE determined he wasn’t a danger to the community, according to his defense team. A challenge to that conviction also is pending in federal court, his defense team said.
He and his lawyers believe he was detained this month because of his advocacy, rather than his prior conviction. A federal judge ruled Monday that his detention was “unnecessary” and “wrong.” Even though he wasn’t a threat to society, he was brought to a detention center in Miami and only transferred to Orange County, New York, after his legal defense team challenged the move in court.
But ICE denied that it targets individuals based on advocacy.
“Any suggestion to the contrary is irresponsible, speculative and inaccurate,” the agency said in a statement.
It maintains that Ragbir has “exhausted his petitions and appeals.”
“Mr. Ragbir does not have a legal basis to remain in the U.S.,” the statement said.
Ragbir traveled to Washington, D.C., Tuesday with his wife Amy Gottlieb, who was Rep. Nydia Velázquez’s guest at Trump’s first State of the Union Speech. Ragbir was also given a ticket from Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY).
"When 45 lays out his problematic immigration framework during his #SOTU, he’ll have to look #RaviRagbir in the eye," Clarke tweeted.
While Ragbir was in ICE custody, he said he met many immigrants in similar situations and his message to them was always the same: Stand up and fight back.
“The purpose of detention is to break your spirit,” he said, but he added that they can’t let it. “The fight is going to continue.”
Ragbir said it was the support from his wife and the community that got him through being detained.
Immediately following his arrest, hundreds of people protested for his release in Foley Square. Eighteen people, including city councilmen Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez, were arrested at the demonstration.
Ragbir encouraged others facing deportation to not be ashamed or afraid to get help from others.
“Don’t do this alone,” he urged.