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BY TEQUILA MINSKY
The tone on the morning of Feb. 10 started a bit lighter than had been expected as immigrant-rights advocates filled Foley Square at the “You Can’t Deport a Movement” rally in support of activist Ravi Ragbir.
Ragbir had been ordered report the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office Downtown for deportation that morning. But in a last-minute reprieve, the federal government delayed this action while the courts decide if his rights have been violated. His lawyers had filed a First Amendment lawsuit in Manhattan two days earlier.
Ragbir is now to report to ICE on March 15.
After an op-ed by Amy Gottleib, Ragbir’s wife, appeared in the Jan. 18 New York Times while Ragbir was in detention for a week, the law firm Arnold & Porter decided to take his case.
In her op-ed, Gottlieb wrote about how they had feared checking-in with ICE that Jan. 11 because, just a week earlier, ICE agents had detained another local immigrant-rights leader, Jean Montrevil, the day before his scheduled check-in. Montrevil, a co-founder with Ragbir of the New Sanctuary Coalition, was deported to Haiti soon afterward.
Gottlieb wrote of other immigrant-rights leaders who have recently been targeted, such as Eliseo Jurado in Colorado, who also was detained, and noted that a week after that, activist Maru Mora-Villalpando announced that she received a notice to appear in immigration court in Seattle. Gottleib commented on how these leaders posed no threat — yet were targeted because they lead their communities with dignity and courage.
The Times op-ed was further argument that a First Amendment, freedom of speech issue was at stake, and Arnold & Porter got on board.
They filed suit in the Southern District of New York, claiming that ICE singled out their client because he is an outspoken activist. A spokesman for ICE denied the charge that arrests were retaliation.
Seeking a separate stay, Ragbir’s lawyers appeared in New Jersey Federal District Court, hoping to persuade a judge to vacate Ragbir’s original criminal conviction for wire fraud from 20 years ago. That judge said he would take advantage of the pending Manhattan First Amendment case to consider his own ruling.
Meanwhile, Saturday’s Foley Square rally went on as scheduled with a full program of advocates, activists, clergy, electeds and a speaker from Ragbir’s legal team.
They spoke of the pain of these deportations, the need to keep pushing back “and pushing forward,” of fighting to keep the DACA Dreamers here, and how ICE is “a rogue / gestapo agency” and how the movement has to heat up.
Linda Sarsour, the well-known Arab-American and women’s activist, observed how this kind of support is needed everywhere in the country.
A new chant was taught: “The movement united can never be deported.”
City Councilmember Jumaane Williams was arrested one month earlier when Ragbir was initially detained. He noted that, had the stay not been granted, “We were going to make history today. It was going to be the showdown of showdowns — surrounding Federal Plaza.”
Stalwart supporters of Ragbir, Congressmembers Nydia Velazquez and Yvette Clarke, Councilmember Brad Lander, former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Public Advocate Letitia James also spoke in support of immigrant rights and on his behalf.
“We are here to celebrate this immigrant-rights leader being with us today,” said Bronx state Senator Gustavo Rivera, to loud applause and cheers. “Let’s all be clear: What is happening from this administration, the orange madness,” he continued.
“There is an attack on the immigration-rights movement. They attempted to deport him but there are two, three, four people who have already been deported; we know of brother Montreveil, an immigrant-rights leader.
“It is up to us,” Rivera stressed, “to us privileged enough to be citizens, privileged enough to stand here without fear, to defend those individuals.
“We cannot allow our immigrant-rights leaders to be taken from us.”
New Sanctuary Coalition lawyer Steve Sacco emphasized how this is a nonviolent movement, but that ICE, in fact, is violent.
“ICE agents should do the right thing and resign,” he stated.
Brewer mentioned how a government worker in Montana resigned rather than give information to ICE.
“We are nonviolent,” Sacco said, “especially our words. We are coming for ICE.” Ragbir’s wife, Gottleib, spoke from the heart of how just two days earlier, she had felt terrified, as she put it, that “Ravi would walk into that building and not walk out.”
“March 15, we have to fight again,” she said. “We are not going to stop for Ravi or everybody else who has to deal with this. We’re behind you. And, we’re going to do this with love.”
She thanked the many supporters, the legal team and the media.
“This is a story, that needs to be heard, and it’s not just Ravi and it’s not just me,” she said. “There are thousands and thousands of people living this crisis every single day. And it is not O.K. We’re going to fight to make it not happen anymore.”
After Gottleib, it was Ragbir’s turn to speak, and the crowd started chanting — “Ravi! Ravi!” — as he approached the mic and got ready to give his remarks. He was clearly moved by all the support.
“Thirty days since Jan. 11,” he began. “What have we done in 30 days? We’ve had a movement build, a movement grow, a movement blossom and explode. We’re changing the courts. We’re changing the streets.
“Today, we didn’t want to be here,” he said. “They asked us to be here.”
He spoke about how the authorities wanted to make him invisible, like they did with Jean Montrevil, now in Haiti, “even though he has a court case [here] in two months,” he noted.
Ragbir challenged ICE about why it is deporting people who are contributing to society: the doctor, the restaurant worker, the father taking his children to school.
“Are they national security risks?” he asked. “Am I a national security problem? Am I colluding with Russia?
“We are [a problem],” he said, answering his question, “because we’re challenging what is happening with a law that is immoral and wrong. People who stand up to laws that are wrong are a threat.”
He pointed out that the deportation movement is removing people of color— “Latinos being sent back to their countries, people sent to their s—hole countries.”
“Let’s be real about who he wants to be in this country: people from Norway. Why?” he asked, referring to President Trump. “They want to make America white again. America was never white in the first place!”
Wrapping up, Ragbir said, “I’ve seen the explosion of love in the last 30 days. Don’t implode!” he cautioned. “Every person here is a leader who is standing up to what is happening.”
Ragbir finished by leading an energetic chant: “ICE has got to go! ICE has got to go!”
Then, to the chant of “Rise Up and Walk With Us,” clergy and activists walked through the crowd to begin another of their signature Jericho Walks, to “bring down the walls of ICE.”
The rally ended with Reverend Billy, the performance preacher, sermonizing, “Stop shopping and start saving people — and save yourself! ”
The crowd made its way across Lafayette St. to the singing of Reverend Billy’s Stop Stopping Choir.
Silently, all from the rally joined the Jericho Walk. They circled the federal building at 26 Liberty Plaza three times.
As if the feds were preparing for the building to be stormed, its Lafayette St. side was patrolled by forbidding-looking Department of Homeland Security police, including one with a mean-looking dog.
Twelve groups sponsored the “You Can’t Deport a Movement” rally, including the Bronx Immigration Partnership, MPower Change, Showing Up for Racial Justice-SURL NYC, DRUM-Desis Rising Up & Moving, Fight Unjust Deportations: Keep Ravi Home, UnLocal, Inc., 32BJ SEIU, Immigrant Defense Project, New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, the Interfaith Center of New York, and Detention Watch Network.