ICE Hit With Scathing Order to Release Detained Activist

Surrounded by co-counsel, NYU attorney Alina Das (left) spoke to reporters on Jan. 29, 2018, after a federal judge ordered U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement to release her client, detained activist Ravi Ragbir. (ADAM KLASFELD, Courthouse News Service)

MANHATTAN (CN) – Calling out U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement for actions she called “unnecessarily cruel,” a federal judge ordered the immediate release Monday of activist Ravi Ragbir.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest likened the statutes invoked by the government here to “a corn maze,” but said the guarantees of the Fifth Amendment to liberty and due process “are North Stars that must guide our actions.”

“It ought not to be – and it has never before been – that those who have lived without incident in this country for years are subjected to treatment we associated with regimes we revile as unjust, regimes where those who have long lived in a country may be taken away without notice from streets, home, and work. And sent away,” Forrest said at an 11 a.m. hearing Monday, reading a portion of her 7-page order granting relief.

“We are not that country,” Forrest continued, “and woe be the day that we become that country under a fiction that laws allow it.”

A native of Trinidad, 53-year-old Ragbir has been held in a jail cell since Jan. 11, 2018, when he reported to an ICE field office for a routine check-in.

“This abrupt and by all accounts unnecessary detention, a step in the direction of deportation was wrong,” Forrest ruled, issuing her opinion from a courthouse that sits directly across Foley Square from the ICE office where Ragbir was arrested.

Forrest’s order does not prevent Ragbir’s deportation, but grants him time to organize his affairs.

The judge emphasized that ICE has made no showing that Ragbir would not have complied with a removal order given the chance.

“And certainly there has been no showing that he has not conducted himself lawfully for years,” Forrest said. “Taking such a man, and there are many such men and women like him, and subjecting him to what is rightfully understood as no different than penal detention, is certainly cruel. We as a country need and must not act so. The Constitution commands better.”

Forrest said Ragbir’s interest in due process makes it obvious “that we not pluck him out of life without a moment’s notice, remove him from his family and community without a moment’s notice.”

“The process that is due here is the allowance that he know and understand that the time has come, that he must organize his affairs, and that he do so by a date certain,” Forrest wrote. “That is what is due. That is what is required after a life lived among us.”

Ragbir’s removal order stems from a 2001 wire-fraud conviction. After serving five years in prison, Ragbir’s activism in immigrant rights led him to become executive director of a group called the New Sanctuary Coalition.

Within hours of Rabir’s arrest this month, ICE agents spirited him to a detention facility in Miami, Florida. His plight triggered a protest as well as a federal complaint, and authorities transferred him to Goshen, New York, after an earlier hearing before Judge Forrest.

Supporters of Ragbir filled Judge Forrest’s 23rd floor courtroom to capacity, nearly all wearing pins with the circled “S” logo of New Sanctuary Coalition.

Sporting a mix of ponytails and clerk collars, the crowd applauded loudly twice, first at Forrest’s decision in favor of Ragbir and a second time when Forrest quickly shut down motions by the government to stay her ruling and expedite their appeal.

The rally in honor of Ragbir on Jan. 11 led to the arrests of that afternoon of New York City Councilmen Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez.

U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, a Democrat who represents parts of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, reportedly plans to bring Ragbir’s wife, Amy Gottlieb, to Capitol Hill on Tuesday where President Donald Trump is scheduled to deliver his State of the Union address.

At Monday’s hearing, Immigrant Rights Clinic legal intern Jeremy Cutting said Ragbir’s order for removal was issued without authority by Scott Mechkowski, the assistant director of the ICE field office in New York.

Cutting characterized Mechkowski as resentful of Ragbir’s activism with the New Sanctuary Coalition, saying ICE soured on the group as it began accompanying immigrants to their field-office check-ins.

In the days leading up to Ragbir’s Jan. 11 check-in, Cutting said Mechkowski referred to the appointment as “D-Day.”

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