Judge Tells ICE to Give Immigrant ‘Freedom to Say Goodbye’ Before Deportation

Ravi Ragbir was convicted of wire fraud two decades ago and will be sent back to Trinidad after he was detained this month.

A prominent immigration activist headed for deportation must be released to get his affairs in order, a federal judge ruled Monday.

"There is, and ought to be in this great country, the freedom to say goodbye," Judge Katherine Forrest said in her order freeing Ravi Ragbir from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement custody.

Ragbir, a prominent immigrants’ rights advocate in New York, is one of a number of activists allegedly targeted for deportation by the Trump administration. And his case is one of many where people who have lived in the U.S., sometimes for decades, have been unexpectedly put in deportation proceedings after routine check-ins with ICE.

The order says the Constitution demands better than simply placing him in handcuffs and putting him on a plane.

"The Court in fact agrees with the Government that the statutory scheme—when one picks the path through the thicket in the corn maze—allows them to do what was done here," Forrest wrote, using metaphors to explain the winding trails of immigration law. "But there are times when statutory schemes may be implemented in ways that tread on rights that are larger, more fundamental. Rights that define who we are as a country, what we demand of ourselves, and what we have guaranteed to each other: our constitutional rights."

"That has occurred here," she added.

Ragbir immigrated to the U.S. from Trinidad in 1991, but lost his legal status when he was convicted of wire fraud nearly two decades ago. He’s been fighting deportation ever since, and even appealed for a pardon from President Obama.

Rights that define who we are as a country, what we demand of ourselves, and what we have guaranteed to each other: our constitutional rights.
Judge Forrest

“If I don't have a pardon, I'm facing deportation," he told WNYC last year. "There's a high possibility that I will be picked up and I will be deported, so this affects not only myself but my family, my wife, my daughter, the community that supports me.”

He was detained during a regular check-in earlier this month and flown to Miami for the beginning of his deportation proceedings, his wife, the immigration lawyer Amy Gottlieb, wrote for The New York Times.

Forrest acknowledged that Ragbir’s efforts for staying his deportation were probably at an end. But the sudden removal crossed a line.

"But if due process means anything at all, it means that we must look at the totality of circumstances and determine whether we have dealt fairly when we are depriving a person of the most essential aspects of life, liberty, and family," Forrest wrote. "Here, any examination of these circumstances makes clear that the petitioner's personal interest, his interest in due process, required that we not pluck him out of his life without a moment's notice, remove him from his family and community without a moment's notice."

"Taking such a man, and there are many such men and women like him, and subjecting him to what is rightfully understood as no different or better than penal detention, is certainly cruel," she wrote. "We as a country need and must not act so. The Constitution commands better."