On Friday, a federal judge stayed the deportation of New York City immigrant rights leader Ravi Ragbir, after he filed a free speech lawsuit arguing immigration officials unconstitutionally used their power to suppress political dissent by targeting outspoken activists for surveillance and deportation. The judge stayed the deportation only one day before Ravi Ragbir was scheduled to be deported. He has now been ordered to check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement on March 15. For more, we speak with Ravi Ragbir, executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In a dramatic move on Friday, a federal judge stayed the deportation of immigrant rights leader Ravi Ragbir, which had been scheduled for the next day, on Saturday. Ragbir is executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition and won the stay after filing a free-speech lawsuit that argues immigration officials unconstitutionally used their power to suppress political dissent by targeting outspoken activists for surveillance and deportation. He filed the suit together with Detention Watch Network, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, the New York Immigration Coalition and CASA de Maryland.
AMY GOODMAN: Ravi Ragbir has now been ordered to check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement again on March 15th. That’s his new deportation date.
Well, on Saturday, hundreds celebrated his stay to fight another day at a “You Can’t Deport a Movement” rally here in Manhattan, where speakers included the New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, New Sanctuary Coalition member Judith Paez and New York Congressmember Nydia Velázquez. First, we go to Ravi Ragbir’s attorney, Alina Das.
ALINA DAS: We will take these fights to the courts. ICE keeps saying they’re just enforcing the law, these unjust laws. Well, the laws include the Constitution. The laws include due process. They include the First Amendment. You know, to the people who are standing out here, so many of you standing for Ravi—even the people standing in the back, the small crowd that are standing for hate—you’re able to do that because of the First Amendment. And none of us deserve to be taken from our homes and our families because we are speaking our own truth.
LETITIA JAMES: You can’t kill an idea. You can’t kill a thought. You can’t kill a belief. And you cannot deport a movement.
JUDITH PAEZ: We are to claim to put an end to the continued injustice of treating us like criminals, to put an end to the injustice that still separates thousands of families, to put an end to the continuing enriching of a handful of heartless people towards the suffering of millions.
REP. NYDIA VELÁZQUEZ: We have to do everything within our power. And that is the reason why I have introduced legislation that will grant Ravi legal permanent status or, if he should be deported, a legal right to return. I’m not going to fool anyone. The majority, the Republicans, control the House and the Senate. But it is important that when we go before any court, any federal court, that we send a message to the judge, that when we have a movement like this, it speaks volumes about the kind of human being that Ravi is.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was New York Representative Nydia Velázquez and other voices from Saturday’s “You Can’t Deport a Movement” rally in New York City. On Friday, Ravi Ragbir’s attorney also argued another case on his behalf, this one in the Federal District Court of New Jersey, which challenges the legality of his sole conviction and sentence for wire fraud. Judge Kevin McNulty said he would issue a written opinion on whether he, too, could issue a stay for Ragbir, noting, quote, “The damage he’d suffer, and the injury he’d suffer, as a result of deportation, is obvious to me.”
AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by Ravi Ragbir, executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition.
Ravi, welcome back to Democracy Now! I didn’t know if you would be in the studio again. Your deportation date was set for Saturday. We were in the Newark courthouse on Friday, when—as we were coming in by train, we got the news, in another case, not related to the Newark case, that a federal—was it a federal judge?
RAVI RAGBIR: It was a federal judge.
AMY GOODMAN: A federal judge ruled on a free speech issue in your case and stayed your deportation, which was set for this past Saturday.
RAVI RAGBIR: Yes, correct. And what is even more important to note, the judge didn’t issue this on his own. This was an agreement between the government, the government agents, ICE itself, and my attorneys, and they both agreed to stay this deportation. And the judge—all the judge did was ratify what was agreed to by Immigration and Customs Enforcement with my attorneys.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what that case was about.
RAVI RAGBIR: Well, that was about free speech. You know, what we are seeing is a targeting of leadership, a targeting of immigrant voices who are speaking out against this travesty, this terrorization of our communities, immigrant communities, of a destruction of our families and the people around us. And they are taking this with an intent and with a plan to cause further terror—psychological warfare, they call it—against those people, because if they take me away, and those—I have a lot of support. What it sends, it sends a message: We are going to—no matter who you are, who’s supporting you, you will be deported. And people are feeling this everywhere, whenever you talk to them.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And were you surprised by that decision? Because, one, that would seem to indicate, if the judge and ICE agreed, it’s probably because the judge told ICE, “I’m going to rule against you, so you may as well come along and do an agreement, so you don’t have a precedent already set in the court.” But it also seems that it’s a much more expansive issue than just your particular case, clearly, that it’s dealing with the whole issue, as you say, of immigrant rights activists being repressed, in effect, by ICE.
RAVI RAGBIR: So, I want to answer your question with a question. Name any country that doesn’t have—that doesn’t have a strong judicial protection. Even dictatorship has to suppress the judiciary. Name any agency in the United States—criminal justice, you know, Department of Justice, U.S. Marshal, even the FISA Court—and that’s in secret—has to have judiciary approval. Yet, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is saying to the courts—right? This is the third branch of government—saying to the courts, “You do not have jurisdiction over me.” That is what be at stake here right now. And it’s creating—you know, Congresswoman Clarke said it’s creating a Gestapo. You know who—and who pushed back at what she said? It was the right wing. The Nazis themselves were saying, “You cannot use those words.” But, you know, you will have your—they say, “You’re speaking about us,” where—how could an agency not have—the courts doesn’t have jurisdiction over an agency?
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you found, as you were about to be deported, when you were about to turn yourself in—this was January 11th. And we’re carefully following your case as an example of what happens to others, though it is certainly not typical. At the same time, they were targeting another member of the new sanctuary movement, Jean Montrevil, who did get deported to Haiti. They picked him up before his check-in, on the street. ICE agents converged on him next to his home. Now, at the same time—and there was a very good piece in The Intercept, ”ICE Is Targeting Political Opponents for Deportation,” about the surveillance of you before you went for your ICE check-in, outside the Judson Church, where your organization is based and where people take sanctuary, and outside your home.
RAVI RAGBIR: So, when Jean was picked up, immediately we mobilized to find out what’s causing this, why this sudden shift, because he had to report to immigration in less than two weeks. And it was a clear signal to us that—to me and to my attorneys—that you will come in here, you are not going to be released. But even prior to that, our members, who have been trained to be vigilant around their surroundings, were seeing the same cars, that look strangely, in a strangely bizarre—you know, people are sitting in their car, not moving. The engine is on, and they’re just sitting there for hours.
AMY GOODMAN: Black tinted windows.
RAVI RAGBIR: Black tinted windows, where they—
AMY GOODMAN: Government-looking cars.
RAVI RAGBIR: Exactly, and with the antennas. You know those antennas. So, hopefully, they will change those antennas. But anyhow, we want them to have it. And then, on that Wednesday, when Jean was picked up, people kept seeing these cars. And it wasn’t that they were away from the church. There were literally in front of the door. So, as you come out, you’re seeing this tinted-window, government-looking car, and you’re wondering what is happening.
And fortunately for us, our people are trained, so that they didn’t just—we didn’t just sit back and, you know, hide. Everyone went up and knocked on the windows. “Who are you? And why are you here?” We called NYPD to get involved, because this was a—you know, we have so many immigrants coming to the space, we don’t know who was—where the threat was coming from. And they had to get involved. They didn’t get involved, unfortunately, because they—we assume that ICE had already told them that they were around. But when we went in, when people—not me, because I couldn’t go outside. If I had gone outside, I would have been taken away. When my ministers and the support and my attorneys, they knocked on the window, as they looked down, they saw the ICE plate, DHS.
AMY GOODMAN: Inside.
RAVI RAGBIR: Inside the vehicle. They denied it, but it was obvious. We knew that they were surveilling us, but—and not only at the church, where we are housed, but we sent a team to my home, and they were surrounding my home, waiting for me.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to break, and then we’re going to come back to this. But I do want to quote, last month, the U.S. district judge, Katherine Forrest, who ordered your immediate release from detention, after you were held, for what? Almost—
RAVI RAGBIR: Eighteen days.
AMY GOODMAN: —three weeks—18 days—calling your detention—well, she said, in a decision she read aloud from the bench, quote, that you had “the freedom to say goodbye,” and compared your treatment to that of “regimes we revile as unjust, regimes where those who have long lived in a country may be taken without notice from streets, home, and work. And sent away. We are not that country; and woe be the day that we become that country under a fiction that laws allow it.”
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll expand this discussion. We’ll be joined by Lee Gelernt of the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others to talk about what federal judges are doing around the country right now and what activists are continuing to do on the ground. Stay with us.