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Protest in Washington Square Park demands ICE release Ravi Ragbir

About 200 protesters took part in a Jericho walk around Ai Weiwei’s “Arch” sculpture in Washington Square Park.

A rally in Washington Square Park for immigration rights leaders recently detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement drew hundreds of people on Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. The participants called on ICE to immediately release Ravi Ragbir and Jean Montrevil. (Credit: Charles Eckert)

Activists and several City Council members marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day by rallying for the release of immigration rights leader Ravi Ragbir from the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Hundreds of people packed into Judson Memorial Church, near Washington Square Park, Monday afternoon for a rally on behalf of Ragbir and other immigrants who have been torn away from their families by ICE.

Ragbir’s wife, Amy Gottlieb, said Ragbir had been moved to Miami and rallied the crowd to “fight, fight, fight.”

“Ravi called me this morning and he said, ‘Get me out of here.’ And that’s what we are going to do, folks,” Gottlieb said. “We are going to get Ravi out of detention, and Jean out of detention, and thousands of people who are locked up by ICE everyday out of detention.

“We are going to break down the walls. We are going to live in a world where people can live with dignity and justice prevails.”

Rhiya Trivedi, who is on Ragbir’s defense team, read a letter he sent from the immigration detention center in Miami.

“I’m doing OK. It was a wild and crazy ride. Every moment was uncertain except the certainty that they wanted me gone,” he wrote. “I feel very heartbroken to see how many of you are suffering for me, how many people were abused during this process. I feel heartbroken that care for someone evokes violence.”

Ragbir, the executive director of NYC-based New Sanctuary Coalition, was detained on Thursday while reporting to a routine check-in with ICE agents. His detainment sparked an impromptu protest in Foley Square that led to the arrests of 18 people, including councilmen Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez.

Leading the church rally in a chant of, “No, hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here. No hate, no fear, Haitians are welcome here. No hate, no fear, Africans are welcome here. No hate, no fear, everyone is welcome here,” Williams took aim at President Donald Trump as a main source of the current of fear that runs amid the country’s immigrant communities.

“I have been looking for this shithole and I found it in Donald Trump’s mouth,” Williams said, referring to the president’s alleged comments on immigration. “That orange man deserves not even a modicum of respect. I will give him none. He does not respect the office he holds.”

The president’s rhetoric proves the need for faith leaders who “read from a different book than Trump does,” Williams said. The councilman also announced he was considering running for lieutenant governor of New York.

“We are born to disrupt the system, uproot the system the same way Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did,” he added. “We need to change the systems, uproot it and replace it.”

Defending their presence and subsequent arrest at the Foley Square rally last week, Rodriguez disputed a report that it was purely a publicity stunt.

“We didn’t want publicity, we participated in an action fighting for social justice,” he said. “This movement is about our children and children to come, and saying we want to be the best nation in the world.”

Rodriguez evoked the spirit of King while demanding that New York City remain a sanctuary city for immigrants. “We have to continue the legacy to fight for justice — from Gandhi to MLK — we need to build America as a region of values.”

The Rev. Kaji Douša, whose grandfather stood with King as he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, told the ralliers that the work of an activist can often be dangerous, but it’s necessary nonetheless.

“We stand strong and undeterred, in the spirit of King, we will resist. We are not afraid of you,” Douša said, referring to ICE. “We will not stand down, and when history looks back on the choices we have made, it will be you, the deporters, who will be regarded with shame.”

Earlier in the day, roughly 200 people took part in a Jericho walk, a form of prayer and protest, around artist Ai Weiwei’s sculpture on migration, which resides inside the Washington Square Arch.

Manhattan resident and New Sanctuary volunteer Kathleen Kralovec, 37, said she attended the rally to protest exclusionary politics as well as Ragbir’s arrest.

“The recent detention of Ravi Ragbir is really disheartening to a lot of people and we are very hopeful that our visibility will help the public to see that he needs to be released,” Kralovec said. “I believe that humans do have a right to migrate when it’s not safe in their own country. When basic human rights are not available, a human being has a right to find those things.”

Ragbir came to the United States in 1991 from Trinidad and obtained a green card in 1994, but in 2006, a judge ordered him to be deported because of a 2001 wire fraud conviction, according to a group of community members and advocates who have fought for him to stay in the country.

He has been granted multiple stays of removal, but on Thursday, ICE agents told his lawyer, Alina Das, that they have the “power to make a discretionary choice,” she said.

“We are asking them, what’s the change, why now? And they are not giving us an answer.”

Ragbir’s detention came one week after ICE detained another New Sanctuary leader, Jean Montrevil, prompting advocates to claim the organization is being systemically targeted.

“We have no choice but to see these two incidents as a direct insult to the New Sanctuary movement,” Donna Schaper, pastor of Judson Memorial Church, said last Thursday following Ragbir’s arrest.

Montrevil’s attorney, Josh Bardavid, said they fear he may be deported as early as Tuesday after an appeal for an emergency stay was denied.

Founded in 2007, the New Sanctuary Coalition acts as a network of interfaith congregations and organizations that stand with families and communities resisting detention and deportation.

With Nicole Brown

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