NEW YORK, NY, Feb. 9, 2018 – Immigrant rights leader Ravi Ragbir, together with the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, CASA de Maryland, Detention Watch Network, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and the New York Immigration Coalition, filed suit (Ragbir v. Homan) in federal district court in the Southern District of New York today to challenge the recent targeting of immigrant rights activists by federal immigration officials. Pending briefing and consideration of a preliminary injunction motion, the government has agreed to stay Mr. Ragbir’s deportation temporarily.
Mr. Ragbir, Executive Director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, was abruptly detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) on January 11, 2018 at a routine check-in, and remained in immigration detention until a federal court ordered his release on January 29, 2018, concluding that his detention was “unnecessarily cruel” and unconstitutional, and expressing “grave concern” about the possible First Amendment implications of the targeting of an immigrant rights activist. Upon his release, ICE issued a notice ordering Mr. Ragbir to report to ICE for deportation on Saturday, February 10, 2018. That deportation date has now been converted into a regular check-in with ICE, which has agreed not to deport Mr. Ragbir at this time.
“Like so many people who are living in this country under the threat of deportation, I know how important it is to raise our voices against the injustices in the system,” said Mr. Ragbir. “This lawsuit is not just about me, it is about all of the members of our community who are speaking out in our struggle for immigrant rights.”
ICE’s recent attempts to detain and deport Mr. Ragbir come amid a string of ICE actions against immigrant rights activists, including the detention and deportation of a co-founder of the New Sanctuary Coalition, Jean Montrevil, to Haiti last month. These high profile actions prompted Arnold & Porter and the New York University Immigrant Rights Clinic to file suit today to challenge federal immigration officials’ retaliatory and discriminatory enforcement of immigration laws against Mr. Ragbir and other immigrant rights activists on the basis of their protected political speech. “ICE’s targeting of immigrant-rights activists based on their protected speech and political advocacy plainly violates the First Amendment. We intend to put an end to this vindictive practice,” said Sally Pei of Arnold & Porter.
The lawsuit seeks, among other forms of relief, a preliminary and permanent injunction restraining the government from taking further action to effectuate a deportation order against Mr. Ragbir, while also seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction restraining the government from selectively enforcing immigration laws against individuals based on protected political speech.
“Justice was restored today, at least temporarily, as Mr. Ragbir is now able to remain in the United States and free until the Court reviews his constitutional claims,” said R. Stanton Jones of Arnold & Porter. “If the First Amendment means anything, it means the Government can’t silence immigrant-rights activists like Mr. Ragbir by deporting them. We look forward to presenting these grave constitutional claims to the Court.”
“Today was a good day for Mr. Ragbir and for everyone who cares about immigrants’ rights or the First Amendment,” said William Perdue of Arnold & Porter. “Government officials cannot retaliate against those who speak out against them. Immigration authorities are no different.”
The lawsuit was joined by numerous organizations who have been harmed by ICE’s aggressive tactics in recent weeks and months. “Ravi has devoted his life to the immigrant rights movement. It is a testament to his work and the work of others like him that so many incredible organizations have stepped up to challenge the unjust targeting of our movement leaders through this lawsuit,” said Alina Das of the NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic.
The plaintiff organizations have issued the following statements:
“Each day we wake up in this new era of American life, we are faced with the challenge of how we will choose to live. Will we be intimidated by a regime that believes in silencing activism and dissent? Or will we choose courage, standing up for our convictions? The New Sanctuary Coalition that Ravi leads helps thousands – with growing numbers by the day – to walk the courageous route. This lawsuit is our way of asserting our fundamental right to live in truth with a voice this country needs to hear. I am proud to co-chair this coalition because we see how this administration is trying to undo our fundamental way of life. Perhaps the administration finds liberty inconvenient. Thankfully we have a constitution to stop them,” said the Rev. Kaji S. Douša, co-chair of Plaintiff New Sanctuary Coalition, and Senior Pastor, Park Avenue Christian Church.
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“If the First Amendment of the United States Constitution means anything, it means freedom of expression and freedom of action. Freedom doesn’t bring with it being singled out, silenced or deported. Freedom means the capacity to speak your mind without state intervention or retribution. In the case of Ravi Ragbir, there is clear and unwarranted punishment for legal thoughts, words and actions. Not only is this punishment illegal. It is also fundamentally and cruelly immoral,” said Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper, Senior Minister, Judson Memorial Church, and member of the Board of New Sanctuary Coalition.
“Ravi Ragbir has been clearly targeted for speaking out against the injustices of our immigration system; a cruel irony that further validates the importance of his work. The immigrant community and advocates will not be bullied into silence, we will only get louder, and we will fight back with every tool at our disposal,” said Steven Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition.
“We are outraged by the intentional targeting of immigrant rights activists by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The right to outspoken political opposition is a cornerstone of a functioning democracy, and attempts by the federal government to suppress dissent by targeting activists points to a broader threat that should concern us all. As a result of this egregious targeting, activists are taking increased precautions to protect themselves, while also remaining steadfast in their commitment to expose ICE’s inhumane and unjust practices. DWN will continue to speak out against ICE’s egregious patterns of abuse, stand with those they target, and demand accountability for their attempts to silence us,” said Mary Small, Policy Director, Detention Watch Network.
“The current unconstitutional tactics being employed by ICE to try and silence the leaders of our movement will not succeed. Through this lawsuit, we stand with Ravi and all the other immigrant leaders who demand that ICE stop targeting our communities. We call on the courts to vindicate their constitutional rights and on our elected officials to finally pass legislation fixing our broken immigration system,” said Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of CASA.
“ICE’s targeting of immigrant activists for exercising their fundamental First Amendment rights must end. For nearly fifty years, NIPNLG has stood with community activists like Ravi Ragbir who courageously speak out against the injustices of the U.S. immigration system. We cannot allow the Trump Administration to use deportation as a tool for silencing political dissent,” said Dan Kesselbrenner, Executive Director, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG).
Mr. Ragbir will still be required by ICE to check in to 26 Federal Plaza in New York, NY, on Saturday, February 10, 2018 at 10am, as thousands of immigrants are required to do on a regular basis each year. He and numerous other organizations ask the community to join a “You Can’t Deport A Movement” rally in solidarity with all immigrants Saturday morning at 9am. Details are here.