On January 11, 2018 Ravi Ragbir, the Executive Director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City and a leading advocate for immigrant rights, was detained by ICE. Ravi came to the US in 1991 from Trinidad and Tobago, and was a green-card holder between 1994-2006 before facing deportation because of a non-violent criminal conviction for which he spent two years in immigration detention. For the past decade, Ravi has worked assiduously with local and national leaders for just immigration policies primarily through the New Sanctuary Coalition, a historic and leading inter-faith based organization in New York City which empowers immigrants and advocates for more humane immigration reform. Despite demands for his release by faith leaders, City Council members, and thousands of concerned citizens, Ravi has been sent to the Krome Detention Facility in Florida. Why is Ravi Ragbir now being detained and facing deportation from New York City, a so-called Sanctuary against the Trump regime’s white supremacist immigration policies?
Ravi’s arrest is part of a disturbing escalation of attacks on immigrants, documented and undocumented. The Trump administration has been consistent in its strategy of escalating intimidation against immigrants, especially immigrants of color, with the promise of a wall along the border with Mexico, the order of the Muslim Travel Ban, the historic reduction of refugee admissions, the revocation of DACA, the ending of TPS (temporary protective status) for hundreds of thousands of El Salvadorians, Haitians, Sudanese, and the relentless persecution of undocumented communities through increased surveillance, mass raids, detention and deportations. This violent enforcement and redrawing of the borders of human community has torn parents from their US-born children and citizens from their immigrant partners; it has made documented and undocumented immigrants, as well as people of color more broadly, afraid to leave their homes, seek medical care, attend school, and go to work; it has destroyed trust among neighbors, and disrupted lives and communities.
Clearly, Ravi’s detention reflects these disturbing shifts in US immigration policy and enforcement. But perhaps less obviously, ICE’s forcible removal of Ravi from NYC represents the silencing of a powerful voice in the public sphere advocating and organizing within immigrant communities. Ravi Ragbir’s detention comes within a week of the detention outside his home of Jean Montrevil, the co-founder of the New Sanctuary Coalition. ICE is deliberately targeting immigrants who advocate on behalf of some of the most silenced and disenfranchised members of our society. These arrests, therefore, were not random, but instead part of a strategy to make us fear each other, and to look to the government for protection. We already have the solutions within our cities, towns, and neighborhoods; in New York, leading immigrant activists like Ravi Ragbir and Jean Montrevil have been working to defend immigrants’ rights. But by detaining and possibly deporting such leaders, ICE has threatened the stability of their entire communities, producing what scholar Naomi Paik calls “radical insecurity” among immigrants in need of safety and sanctuary.
Mayor DeBlasio has publicly declared his commitment to the ideals of a Sanctuary city whereby local police will not provide information and cooperate with federal agents like ICE to facilitate detention and deportation of immigrants. However, the official position of non-cooperation does not address how the Trump administration creates fear within our communities by placing all immigrants under suspicion. In practice, too, the NYPD continues to criminalize and intimidate immigrant communities, perpetuating the insecurity produced by ICE raids and deportations, and failing to build the trust upon which Sanctuary depends. On January 11th, heavily armed NYPD and Homeland Security Police worked side by side to remove Ravi from 26 Federal Plaza. As a community of immigrant and allied activists gathered to protest the detention, these officers, some in NYPD and some in DHS uniforms, together used excessive force in an attempt to suppress nonviolent civil disobedience. How meaningful is the Mayor’s commitment to the plight of immigrants and his moral outrage against the Trump administration when his own police force participates in silencing the city’s most prominent advocates for Sanctuary?
We ask the Mayor, the Governor, and all of our local and state representatives to join us in calling for Ravi’s immediate release from detention, and to find positive ways of supporting immigrant communities. Ravi’s lawyers from the NYU Immigrants’ Rights Clinic are challenging both his conviction and the deportation proceeding. They are making the case that Ravi belongs with his family to continue his crucial role in advocating for a community already under attack. Ravi’s situation has garnered world-wide attention, but the vast majority of deportation cases happen without media and public attention. Ravi’s case should remind us about the millions of cases like his that call for action. January of 2017 saw thousands of New Yorkers take to the streets and airport at JFK protesting the Trump administration’s racist Muslim Travel Ban, with similar protests around the country. In January of 2018 all of us who believe in civil rights in a democratic society must continue the struggle on the ground against Trump’s ethno-nationalist agenda.
Reflecting on Ravi’s case on Martin Luther King Day, we are reminded that King called for an American identity that would not define the parameters of brother and sisterhood as identical with the borders of the nation. “I am convinced,” he said, “that we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” We cannot wait any longer to live in the person-oriented society he imagined, and need look no further than the New Sanctuary Coalition as a powerful example of this possibility. We must act now to build and sustain the social movements of our day. This is why we stand with Ravi.
NYU Sanctuary Coalition