A vigil in solidarity with New York families facing deportation turned into a rally calling for the release of a local immigrant rights leader who was reportedly detained during a routine check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Thursday morning.
Ravi Ragbir, executive director of faith-based immigrant rights group The New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, was detained Thursday morning at 26 Federal Plaza, according to the Immigrant Defense Project.
The news sparked a rally at which 18 people have so far been arrested, according to the NYPD, including New York City council members Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez.
Many people were reportedly already gathered outside of 26 Federal Plaza for the planned vigil — sponsored by organizations including the Center for Constitutional Rights, Immigrant Defense Project, Make the Road New York, the New York Civil Liberties Union and more — meant to show support for those New Yorkers checking in with ICE officers today.
“When they enter the building, they don’t know if they will be able to see their families again,” the Facebook event for the vigil reads. “Now, more than ever, it is important to show solidarity in the face of policies that threaten our communities."
Hundreds then flooded the area, chanting Ragbir's name and holding signs. Ragbir was one of those individuals headed in for a routine check-in when he was detained, community members said. He’s been called a “fixture in the immigrants' rights movement” and was awarded the 2017 Immigrant Excellence Award by the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators for his efforts to help the immigrant community.
“Ravi Ragbir means everything to this city,” said Rev. Kaji Dousa, co-chair of The New Sanctuary Coalition and senior pastor of Park Avenue Christian Church, in an emailed statement. “A longtime New Yorker, a husband and a father, Ravi is beloved by all of us who have had the privilege of working with him to make New York a welcoming community for all of its residents. The fact that ICE has taken him as if his spirit, family ties and contributions to the community mean nothing is inhumane.”
Ragbir was transported via ambulance to New York Presbyterian Hospital, a spokesperson for the Immigrant Defense Project confirmed, because he had fainted while being detained by ICE.
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson was also among the crowd Thursday morning.
“I am at 26 Federal Plaza in support of Ravi Ragbir, immigrant rights activist, community leader, husband and father, who has been detained by ICE,” he tweeted. “We call for him to be released from detention and granted a new stay of removal. #IStandWithRavi”
I am at 26 Federal Plaza in support of Ravi Ragbir, immigrant rights activist, community leader, husband and father, who has been detained by ICE. We call for him to be released from detention and granted a new stay of removal. #IStandWithRavi pic.twitter.com/Z7cZRMFZJF— NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson (@NYCSpeakerCoJo) January 11, 2018
Activists are encouraging others to call the ICE offices and New York senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to demand Ragbir’s release.
Ragbir has been facing the threat of deportation for nearly a decade, community members said, due to a "16-year-old conviction for wire fraud." He was placed into removal proceedings in 2006 and then spent 22 months in immigration detention before being released in February 2008.
Previously, those community members said, ICE officials had granted Ragbir "prosecutorial discretion, including a stay of removal that was in effect until next week."
In a statement, an ICE spokesperson said that over the last 12 years, Ragbir's immigration case "has undergone extensive judicial review at multiple levels of the nation’s judicial system, including both immigration courts and federal appeals courts."
"In each review," the statement continues, "the courts have uniformly held that Mr. Ragbir does not have a legal basis to remain in the U.S. In an exercise of discretion, the agency had previously allowed him to remain free from custody with periodic check-ins, while his case was under court review. He has since exhausted his petitions and appeals through the immigration courts, the Board of Immigration Appeals and the U.S. District Court. He will remain in custody pending removal to Trinidad."
In a video of the rally posted to Twitter by Buzzfeed News, Williams was seen being held face-down on the hood of a car by a police officer while saying, "Freedom. Resist. Freedom. Resist. We are going to resist."
Eric Phillips, Mayor Bill de Blasio's spokesman, said in a statement that the mayor was briefed on the protest and police activity.
"The area is covered extensively by cameras," Phillips tweeted, "and we’ll be reviewing the footage to get to the bottom of what happened."
Another protest rally in support of Ragbir is planned for 5 p.m. Thursday in front of Varick Street Detention Center, where he will be detained.