Ravi Ragbir is coming home—for now.
On Monday, United States District Judge Katherine Forrest ruled that the “the government acted wrongly” and with “unnecessary cruelty” in detaining the well-known immigrant advocate during a routine check-in earlier this month, and ordered his immediate release from a correctional facility in Orange County, New York. Noting that, “there is, and ought to be in this great country, the freedom to say goodbye,” Forrest repeatedly condemned the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s actions. “This abrupt and by all accounts unnecessary detention, a step in the direction of deportation, was wrong,” she declared.
News of the unexpected ruling quickly spread from the packed courtroom to the overflow room to outside the courthouse, where dozens of supporters had been marching silently in protest of Ragbir’s detention. “It was one of the most intense experiences of my life,” said Hansell Patterson, a volunteer with the New Sanctuary Coalition, where Ragbir is an executive director. “There were tears of joy because the judge really nailed it.”
“My faith in our system has been restored,” said Ragbir’s wife, Amy Gottlieb, who works as an immigration attorney. “This is beautiful—this is what our judiciary is set up to do.”
Ragbir, a 27-year resident of the United States, has long lived under the threat of deportation. Due to a wire fraud conviction in 2001, which triggered removal proceedings, his status in the country has depended on a series of temporary stays, granted because of his family ties and his work with the New Sanctuary Coalition. While he’s advocated for the undocumented community for years, since the election President Trump, Ragbir has become perhaps the most visible immigrant leader in New York—a distinction for which he fully expected to be punished under the new regime.
On January 11, Ragbir was detained during a routine check-in with ICE officers and told that he’d soon be deported to Trinidad. A chaotic scene ensued, as protesters attempted to block the ambulance transporting Ragbir, who’d briefly fainted after receiving the news. New York City police officers arrested 18 people, some violently, including City Council members Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez.
Days earlier, another leader of the New Sanctuary Coalition, had been detained and deported over a 28-year-old drug charge, causing legal observers to warn of an ICE crackdown against the movement’s leading activists. “Ravi’s arrest is part of a disturbing pattern,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “ICE is targeting immigrant advocates who dare to express dissent against the administration’s cruel deportation agenda.”