ICE detains immigrant rights leader Ravi Ragbir, prompting Manhattan protests

Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez was taken into NYPD custody at an immigrant rights rally in Foley Square on Jan. 11, 2018.
Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez was taken into NYPD custody at an immigrant rights rally in Foley Square on Jan. 11, 2018. Photo Credit: Newsday / Moises Saman

This story was reported by Rajvi Desai and Alison Fox. It was written by Nicole Brown and Lauren Cook.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center on the Lower West Side Thursday, chanting “ICE out now” and demanding to know the whereabouts of a prominent immigrant rights leader, just hours after two city councilmen were arrested during a similar protest in Foley Square.

City councilmen Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams were among 18 people who were arrested during the Foley Square protest sparked by the arrest of Ravi Ragbir, the executive director of the faith-based immigrant rights group New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City. Ragbir was detained when he showed up for a check-in with ICE, organizers of the rally said.

Outside of the ICE building at 201 Varick St. Thursday night, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said she stands with Ragbir as well as her former colleagues who were arrested.

“I know Ravi personally; he is a man of grace, and community building. What is happening is the outrageousness of this administration that seeks to demonize anyone who is a person of color,” Mark-Viverito said. “We are tired of it, and that’s why I came down here today.”

Over 500 people lined the Varick Street sidewalk to take part in a form of prayer and protest known as a Jericho walk. Protesters walked a loop around the building, which takes up an entire city block between Varick and Hudson streets. Carrying signs that read “No walls,” “Human rights across all borders” and “Love restores our humanity,” protesters chanted “I stand with Ravi.”

As the protesters chanted a prayer that organizer and New Sanctuary co-chair Kaji Dousa said Ragbir says every Thursday, his wife Amy Gottlieb Ragbir held hands and cried heavily.

“I want to say thank you to everyone here today, that you love Ravi almost as much as I do,” she told the massive crowd. “He knows that we are going to win this fight and that no one is backing down that he will be with the immigrant communities of the city and that Ravi will be here leading the fight for year.”

Earlier Thursday, Grace Goodman, who is on the board of the New Sanctuary Coalition, said she and other members of the group went with Ragbir to his ICE check-in to participate in a different Jericho walk.

“We were informed that ICE had decided to detain Ravi,” she said. “Apparently, Ravi fainted and they took him out of the building in an ambulance.”

As Ragbir was taken away in an ambulance, Rodriguez, Williams and other protesters stood in the road, prompting police to push them aside so it could get through, video of the rally shows. Several people were arrested when they did not move onto the sidewalk, out of the way of the ambulance, Goodman said.

Rodriguez tweeted photos of himself being taken into police custody and accused the NYPD of putting him in a chokehold, a banned police tactic.

“This is NOT how you treat people who are protesting for Human Rights. This is NOT what democracy looks like,” he wrote.

NYPD Sgt. Jessica McRorie said video of officers’ interactions with Rodriguez is being reviewed.

“At this point, it appears the police were clearing a path for an ambulance with a patient inside that was en route to a hospital,” McRorie said in an emailed statement. “The NYPD was attempting to clear a path for that ambulance, which was purposely and repeatedly being blocked.”

Rodriguez was arraigned Thursday night on charges of obstructing an emergency medical service, reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, according to a law enforcement source.

Most of the other 17 people arrested, including Williams, were charged with disorderly conduct, reckless endangerment and/or obstructing an emergency medical service, police said. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio was briefed on the protest and police activity, his spokesman Eric Phillips said in a tweet.

“The area is covered extensively by cameras and we’ll be reviewing the footage to get to the bottom of what happened,” he wrote.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said certain protesters at the Foley Square rally “intentionally escalated an already tense situation,” which put police and other protesters “at greater risk.”

“Our elected officials should know the difference between a peaceful protest and behavior that endangers public safety. Yet some of them have chosen repeatedly over the years to cross that line in order to raise their own profile,” Lynch said in an emailed statement. “Now more than ever, we need leadership, not showmanship.”

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 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 handed Das his hat and a crucifix when he found out he was being detained, she said.

“The fight is not over today. We need your prayers to make sure Ravi knows we are going to continue fighting for him,” Das added. “He represents a good man — a father, a husband, a leader.”

Donna Schaper, pastor of Judson Memorial Church, said another New Sanctuary leader, Jean Montrevil, was detained last week and is now in Miami, Florida.

“We have no choice but to see these two incidents as a direct insult to the New Sanctuary movement,” Schaper said.

Now that Ragbir is in ICE custody, “it’s all in the hands of the courts now,” Schaper said.

Representatives from Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office have been in touch with Ragbir’s attorneys to offer assistance, a source with knowledge of the situation said.

About a dozen churchgoers and members of New Sanctuary gathered in the basement of Judson Memorial Church after the Foley Square protest to regroup and make a banner that prominently displayed the hashtag “#WeNeedRaviBackNow!”

During the Varick Street protest, a slew of elected officials and immigration advocates demanded New York City live up to its name as a so-called sanctuary city for immigrants. With no megaphones at hand, protesters used a human echo chain reminiscent of the Occupy Wall Street movement to relay what the speakers were saying.

Councilman Bard Lander lauded Williams and Rodriguez for “putting their bodies on the line.”

“Our new speaker, Corey Johnson, stood with Ravi today. He was very distressed to see what happened,” Lander added. “ . . . he made clear in this city we will continue to stand up for the rights of immigrants, for the right to peaceful protest and to be a sanctuary city.”

City Comptroller Scott Stringer said Ragbir’s arrest was an international disgrace.

“We will be out here to support Ravi and his family. I think about children that get separated from their mothers and fathers,” Stringer said. “This is not what America is all about. So, for all the freedom fighters here today, New York City has your back.”

With Rajvi Desai and Alison Fox

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