MANHATTAN (CN) – Standing across the street from the Homeland Security field office where he was arrested, immigration activist Ravi Ragbir rallied roughly 100 supporters Tuesday after a Second Circuit hearing in his case.
“This is a First Amendment case,” Ragbir bellowed, with a strong hint of Trinidadian Creole in his voice. “This is a case where they’re silencing the right to free speech. This is a case of silencing the community.”
Faced with deportation over a 2001 wire-fraud conviction, Ragbir recited the text of the First Amendment and told the crowd that Immigration and Customs Enforcement targeted him because of his protests and advocacy.
“This is a case where if they continue to do that, we’re moving away from democracy towards a fascist society, a police state,” said Ragbir, whose work with the immigrant-rights group New Sanctuary Coalition has increased his public profile in recent years.
Just steps away from the courthouse where Ragbir is challenging his removal order, Ragbir, 53, was arrested on Jan. 11 while reporting for a routine check-in at the ICE field office in New York City.
“This is a government agency that is using its powers to shut down any opposition to its policy,” said William Perdue, an attorney for Ragbir with the firm Arnold & Porter.
But attorneys for ICE say the agency has the right to deport an undocumented immigrant at any time, even here where it has been a decade since Ragbir served five years in prison for his New Jersey fraud conviction.
A stay of removal entered in the Garden State has allowed Ragbir to stay put for now, but Perdue urged the Second Circuit to intervene ahead of Ragbir’s Sept. 7 appointment to “check-in for removal” with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement.
“We need a stay,” Perdue said this morning. “There’s no stay, he’s gone Sept. 7.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Kochevar stubbornly avoided requests from the three-judge panel to guarantee that, should the New Jersey court stay dissolve, ICE would not swoop in the middle of the night and seize Ragbir.
U.S Circuit Judges Rosemary Pooler, Jon Newman and Dennis Jacobs presided over Ragbir’s hearing but reserved their decision.
Outside the courthouse, where Ragbir’s supporters filled two overflow rooms to observe the 10 a.m. hearing, the New Sanctuary Coalition passed out copies of the First Amendment in English and Spanish. The rally ended in an Occupy-style “mic-check” call & response recitation of the fundamental amendment.
ICE had initially tried to keep Ragbir in a detention center while his challenge was pending, but U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest called the bid “unnecessarily cruel” in January.
Ordered the activist’s immediate release, Forrest likened the statutes invoked by the government to “a corn maze” and said the guarantees of the Fifth Amendment to liberty and due process “are North Stars that must guide our actions.”
Ragbir’s group, the New Sanctuary Coalition, frequently protests immigration policies directly across the street from ICE’s offices at 26 Federal Plaza.