ICE Detained My Husband for Being an Activist

Ravi Ragbir, center, the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, at a demonstration outside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Manhattan last year. This week, Mr. Ragbir became one of a series of prominent immigrant activists detained by ICE. CreditJohn Moore/Getty Images

Via The New York Times | Amy Gottlieb

Last Thursday, I found myself in the back of an ambulance with my handcuffed husband, Ravi Ragbir, two E.M.T.s and an agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

As the ambulance inched its way out of 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan, I caught glimpses of the chaos outside. Faces of friends swam in and out of view. We could hear the shouts and wails of the hundreds of supporters surrounding us who knew Ravi had been arrested, feared he was being “disappeared” and were attempting, nonviolently, with their bodies, to protect him.

Photo

Two New York City Council members attempting to block an ambulance carrying Mr. Ragbir from his meeting with ICE officials. CreditEduardo Munoz/Reuters

Ravi’s arrest is the latest in a series that makes clear that ICE is singling out immigrant activists and leaders for detention and deportation. In the past week alone we have learned of three other leaders who have been deported, detained or placed into deportation proceedings. Each of these leaders has been outspoken about his or her own immigration case and has worked toward a more just system for all.

Ravi is an immigrant from Trinidad and the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, a network of faith groups that works to reform detention and deportation practices. Eighteen years ago, he served time for a wire fraud conviction; after he finished his sentence, ICE detained him. He had been a legal permanent resident, but his green card was taken away, and he has been fighting a deportation order since 2006.

Ravi and I met through our mutual work on immigrant rights and married in 2010. Even though I am an American citizen, Ravi continues to face deportation because of his conviction years ago. As he fights his own deportation, he works with other immigrants in New York, accompanying them to their ICE check-ins, developing a legal support clinic and organizing churches and synagogues to fight deportation.

Last week, Ravi had his regularly scheduled check-in with ICE. Once routine, these check-ins have become terrifying under President Trump, with immigrants being detained and deported after meeting with officials.

When Ravi, his lawyer and I walked into the building, we were more nervous than usual, even though nothing had changed in Ravi’s case.

We had reason to fear: A week earlier, ICE agents in unmarked vans detained another immigration leader, Jean Montrevil, as he went home for lunch the day before his check-in. He has been deported to Haiti. On the same day Ravi was detained, ICE detained Eliseo Jurado, an immigrant rights leader in Colorado, and a week later, another leader, Maru Mora-Villalpando, announced that she received a notice to appear in immigration court in Seattle.

When the ICE officer told us that Ravi’s legal options were exhausted and that he would be deported, Ravi passed out. I held him tightly and he revived; someone called for medical attention.

By nighttime, Ravi had been flown to Miami. I spent the day unsure where he was and struggling to accept that my husband had been taken from me.

As a longtime immigrant rights lawyer and advocate, I am aware of the horrific conditions in the jails that hold immigrants. I know how deportation tears at the fabric of families and communities.

But now I am inside this nightmare personally and it hurts more than I ever thought it would. I come home to an empty apartment, and everything screams Ravi’s absence.

Like Jean and thousands of other immigrants caught in ICE raids, Ravi threatens no one. On the contrary, he and other immigrant leaders have led their communities with dignity and courage in a brutal time. That’s why they were snatched — and why ICE wants to deport them.

The last time I saw my husband was through Plexiglas at the Krome Detention Center in Miami. After six tense days and a court hearing on Tuesday, ICE said it would bring Ravi back to the New York area so that he could be closer to his family, his legal counsel and his community. But he remains detained, and he is still not safe from deportation.

We are continuing to challenge his detention. My greatest fear is that he will be sent back to Trinidad, where he has not lived for more than 25 years. We must keep Ravi, and other immigrant leaders, at home in the United States where they belong.

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