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News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Weds. Jan. 30, 2018: On Monday morning, Caribbean-born immigrant activist Ravi Ragbir woke up in a U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Orange County, New York. But on Tuesday, January 30th, he was in Washington, D.C., attending his first State of the Union.

It was a rare moment of celebration for immigrant rights activists and immigrant families, who have too many times in the past year, seen their friends and loved ones in ICE detention, deported.

Caribbean-born immigrant activist Ravi Ragbir.

But New York-based, Trinidad-born Ragbir has managed to buck that trend – at least for now – as a federal judge in New York City on Monday ordered ICE to immediately free him. District Judge Katherine Forrest ruled his detention “unnecessarily cruel” and said the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition must be given “the freedom to say goodbye.”

“I’m still in an outer body experience,” he related to Democracy Now Tuesday, before hopping with his wife immigrant rights advocate Amy Gottlieb, to attend their first State of the Union as President Donald Trump addressed the joint session of Congress, in a speech peppered with anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Ragbir was invited to the speech as a guest of U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke of Brooklyn, who didn’t attend. New York Rep. Nydia Velázquez brought Ragbir’s wife as her guest.

After the speech, Ragbir told the Associated Press that it was difficult to see the reaction from people in the room who “totally bought into what he (Trump) was saying.”

He said the President’s speech was “filled with cruel, empty, hollow words” and that that U.S. immigration officials are engaging in “psychological warfare” by targeting him and other activists for detention and deportation.


Ragbir was arrested on Jan. 11th during a routine immigration check-in at 26 Federal Plaza in NYC. He had migrated to the United States from Trinidad in 1991 and got a green card in 1994.

But in 2001 he was convicted of wire fraud and spent time in jail. Ragbir was then detained following his release from jail in 2006 – for nearly two years – after a judge ordered deportation because of his conviction. But he was subsequently released after ICE determined he wasn’t a danger to the community and years of checking-in with the agency followed.

But all that changed on Jan. 11th when he was told then that he would be detained. Ragbir said he passed out upon hearing the news and was then taken by ambulance to Bellevue hospital – where 20 officers  were posted to guard him – 10 from ICE and 10 NYPD – despite New York claiming to be a sanctuary city.

Ragbir told Democracy Now he was then taken shackled alone and taken to Newark Airport via an entourage of 10 cars like a “most wanted” criminal and locked in a cell in Orange.

He was later flown to Krome Detention Facility in Miami to be readied for deportation back to Trinidad & Tobago. But his legal team moved to get an order from Judge Forest forced ICE to return Ragbir back to a NYC detention facility.

On January 29th, at 6:45 p.m., Ragbir related that his feet, his hands and his stomach were again shackled and he was brought down to New York City following the judge’s ruling hours earlier.

Upon arriving back in Manhattan, he was served an order of removal for February 10th even as the Deputy Director of ICE NY, offered to drive him to the front door of Judson Memorial Church, the office of his New Sanctuary Coalition.

“It is unbelievable the resources they have used for one person, and the resources I assume they are using to target immigrants and leaders and advocates,” Ragbir told AM New York Tuesday, adding that the Trump administration has cracked down on undocumented immigrants, particularly those of color, to “ethnic cleansing.”

“This is something we will be ashamed of in years to come,” Ragbir added. “When he talks about immigrants . . . it’s about certain immigrants. We need to be defiant and to stop this crazy talk from this administration.”

His attorney, Aliana Das, said it took a lot of legal resources and community support for Ragbir’s surprise release but she said she is now worried about the thousands of people who are in similar situation.

Meanwhile, Ragbir could be in another immigration detention facility again come Feb. 10th since an order of removal is still hanging over his head like the Sword of Damocles.


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