On Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, President Donald J. Trump visited his Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, reportedly his 91st trip to a golf club since taking office. Meanwhile, in New York City, hundreds rallied in Judson Memorial Church, demanding freedom for Jean Montrevil and Ravi Ragbir, two men who had just been detained by ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Both men have been in the U.S. for almost 60 years between them, and both are prominent immigrant-rights organizers. They aren’t the only ones who’ve been targeted by ICE lately, either, suggesting a concerted effort by the Trump administration to round up leaders in the immigrant community.
Jean Montrevil, originally from Haiti, has been in the U.S. for over 30 years. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and is still recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people. It also is one of those countries that Trump reportedly singled out in a racist screed last Thursday, calling Haiti, El Salvador and countries in Africa “shitholes.” The comment was made at the White House, where Trump and senators were discussing a possible legislative deal on immigration. “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here,” Trump reportedly asked, adding, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.” He went on to say that we need more immigrants from places like Norway, one of the whitest countries on the planet.
Jean Montrevil, a well-known community leader in New York City, was, indeed, taken out. “I just had my first wake-up in Haiti after 32 years,” Jean told us on the “Democracy Now!” news hour Wednesday morning. He went on to describe his ordeal: “I was deported on Tuesday, without any notification from my lawyer. They just deported me. My case was still in court. It was very tough, two days of hell. … Imagine staying up for two days straight, with no food and shackled up and with no explanation. And now I’m in Haiti.”
Jean is a longtime volunteer with the New Sanctuary Coalition, a faith-based, immigrant-rights group headquartered at Judson Memorial Church. When asked if he thought that work contributed to his arrest and deportation, he said, “I can’t regret the work that we did with the sanctuary movement, because no one knew about what ICE was doing until we started.”
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Ravi Ragbir is the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition. He was detained by ICE on Jan. 11, the same day Trump made his racist comments. Ravi is married to a U.S. citizen, and is a nationally recognized leader in the immigrant-rights community. Like Jean Montrevil, Ravi was quickly flown by ICE, in shackles, to Miami. From there, he managed to dictate a “Letter From an Immigration Jail,” a missive inspired by the “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” written by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. “Every moment was uncertain except the certainty that they wanted me gone,” Ravi wrote. “At this moment, we need to speak about changing the system so that no one has to face this type of harm, not just for me but for all the families who face being torn apart. Until we get reform, we need to repeal the act that criminalizes immigrants, that makes us less than human because of a document.”
Immediately after his detention, a protest formed outside the federal building in Manhattan. As Ravi was driven away in an ambulance, 18 people, including two New York City Council members, were arrested while nonviolently attempting to stop it. Ravi was brought to the Krome Detention Center in Florida, facing deportation to his native Trinidad, but after public outcry and a court challenge, ICE informed his lawyers that he would be brought back to detention in the New York City area.
This is happening across the country. Colorado has more people living in sanctuary than any other state. Sandra Lopez is a Mexican mother of three who has been in the U.S. for 20 years. She has been living in the Unitarian parsonage in Carbondale since October. Ingrid Encalada Latorre re-entered sanctuary in Denver in October as well. On the day Ravi was detained, Ingrid’s husband, Eliseo Jurado, was arrested by ICE. In Seattle, ICE sent a “notice to appear” to Maru Mora Villalpando, who has lived in the U.S. for 25 years and leads the organization Northwest Detention Center Resistance.
“ICE is really sending us a message to stop our political activity, to stop our activism,” Maru told us on “Democracy Now!” But as evidenced by the enormous pressure on Congress to protect the 800,000 young immigrant Dreamers living in the United States, a vigorous mass movement is growing, dedicated to immigrant rights that challenges mass deportations and the racism of President Trump and his supporters.