Days after Ravi Ragbir was released from federal custody, City Council leaders rallied around the immigration activist in Manhattan on Wednesday.
Among those who joined Ragbir at City Hall Park were Council Speaker Corey Johnson and council members Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams — both of whom were arrested during a protest that erupted after Ragbir’s Jan. 11 detention.
Johnson apologized for Ragbir’s treatment by authorities over the last few weeks, and said he is concerned about the growing threat of deportation against immigrants who are protesting the federal government’s surge in arrests of undocumented citizens.
“We stand in solidarity with the people who are leading the masses against this totalitarian regime that is in Washington,” he said.
Ragbir, executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, moved to the U.S. from Trinidad and Tobago in 1991, and obtained his green card three years later. He was convicted in 2001 on a wire fraud charge and served 18 months in prison. Then, in 2006, a federal judge ordered his deportation for that charge.
He had been allowed to stay in the country while his attorneys appealed the deportation, but during a routine check-in with ICE on Jan. 11 in downtown Manhattan, Ragbir was arrested.
Activists had been calling for his release for days, and on Monday a judge ordered a temporary stay, granting him “the freedom to say goodbye.” He is scheduled for another hearing on Feb. 9, one day before his scheduled deportation.
Ragbir and his wife attended the State of the Union address Tuesday night, courtesy of invites from U.S. representatives Nydia Velázquez and Yvette Clarke. Ragbir said he was appalled by the president’s calls for stricter immigration policies, and was struck by the significance of going from an immigration detention center to Washington, D.C.
“I went from the belly of the beast, the monster, the effect, to the cause,” he said.
Ragbir thanked his supporters and the council members for their hard work, singling out Williams and Rodriguez, who were among the 18 arrested outside the ICE office earlier this month.
On Tuesday, Police Commissioner James O’Neill said one of the officers who was involved in the arrest that day has been transferred to patrol duty.
Johnson said he wants to get to the bottom of what happened that day, but Rodriguez and Williams encouraged everyone in attendance to focus on the bigger picture.
“This is not about Jumaane and I. This is about Ravi,” said Rodriguez.