In a strongly-worded ruling that condemned the Trump administration's immigration policies, a federal judge ordered that immigrant rights activist Ravi Ragbir be released from jail on Monday, more than two weeks after he was abruptly detained during a routine check-in with immigration officials.
"There is, and ought to be in this great country, the freedom to say goodbye," Judge Katherine Forrest said in a New York courtroom. "It ought not be—and it has never before been—that those who have lived without incident in this country for years are subjected to treatment we associate with regimes we revile as unjust, regimes where those who have long lived in a country may be taken without notice from streets, home, and work."
The judge's statement drew attention from supporters on social media.
Quite a rallying cry from NY District Judge Katherine Forrest, freeing the detained immigrant activist Ravi Ragbir. "We are not that country; and woe be the day that we become that country under a fiction that laws allow it." pic.twitter.com/d91csrO4Wx— Nicole Narea (@nicolenarea) January 29, 2018
Forrest argued that Ragbir was denied his due process rights when he was detained by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official on January 11.
While immigration law allowed Ragbir's arrest, Forrest argued, his Fifth Amendment rights should be seen as "North Stars that must guide our actions."
Ragbir came to the U.S. from his native Trinidad and Tobago in 1991 and got a green card in 1994. He co-founded the New Sanctuary Coalition, which works to protect immigrants from deportation and detention.
The activist was convicted of wire fraud in 2001 and his deportation was ordered, but he was released from jail in 2008 and has cooperated with routine check-ins with immigration officials since then—until one of those check-ins led to his detainment.
Impassioned protests erupted the day Ragbir was detained, with 18 people being arrested.
The New York Immigration Coalition applauded the judge's decision on Monday.
"We are relieved that Ravi Ragbir has been released from detention and reunited with his wife and community while his legal case continues," said executive director Steven Choi. "Ravi and other immigrant rights leaders have been viciously targeted by ICE for speaking out against the injustices of our immigration system. This is a naked attempt to intimidate us into silence, but we will only get louder."
Ragbir's lawyers are challenging his criminal conviction in court now, arguing that official who detained him did not have authority to do so.
Forrest's defense of Ragbir's rights left his attorneys feeling hopeful, though he could be detained again if ICE appeals the ruling, as the agency is considering.
"I think it both supports a growing recognition that ICE's cruel practices deprive people of their liberty and will not be tolerated by the courts, while also hopefully setting a ground that will be helpful to others," said one of the lawyers, Alina Das, of Forrest's statement.