When Ravi Ragbir was taken into custody by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents three weeks ago, one might think that he’d had fair warning—after all, he’d been ordered deported in 2006. But according to Manhattan federal district court judge Katherine B. Forrest, ICE, in detaining Ragbir, violated his constitutional “freedom to say goodbye” to his wife and “hug” her. Yesterday, Forrest ordered ICE to release him, in an opinion that Stephen Yale-Loehr, an otherwise supportive Cornell law professor, characterized as “long on rhetoric and short on careful legal analysis.”
Ravi Ragbir was a legal immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago when he was arrested in 1999 for wire fraud in connection with a subprime mortgage scam involving forged signatures and stolen home loans. After spending several years in federal prison, he received a final deportation order but managed to get it repeatedly stayed. Ragbir built a new career for himself as an activist for deportable aliens such as himself, and he became executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition.
Ragbir’s detention on January 11 was anticipated. He attended his scheduled check-in at ICE’s Federal Plaza offices with a large group of protestors, including elected officials, and he filmed a valediction the day before, encouraging his supporters to continue the struggle. But Judge Forrest found that the government subjected Ragbir 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. And sent away. We are not that country.” She ordered his immediate release.
Forrest’s opinion resembles that of Hawaii’s Judge Derrick Watson, whose repeated injunctions against President Trump’s “travel ban” were struck down by higher courts. Like Watson, who effectively applied the Bill of Rights to the population of the world, asserting an absolute right to emigrate to the United States as implicit in the Constitution, Judge Forrest invented new rights pertaining to Ragbir’s case that are “larger, more fundamental” than the actual law or the facts of the case, which she acknowledges to be entirely valid. “The Court agrees that the statutory scheme governing petitioner’s status is properly read to allow for his removal without further right of contest,” she allows, in what would seem like a solid ruling in favor of his immediate deportation. But, Forrest continues, given that Ragbir had been allowed to stay here through multiple discretionary stays of removal, the government “committed itself to the avoidance of unnecessary cruelty when the time came” to follow through on his inevitable deportation.
The Forrest opinion’s perverse logic, carried to its conclusion, is that, since it didn’t deport Ragbir immediately, the government can never deport him. Because “this country allowed petitioner to become a part of our community fabric,” it must give him due process to get his affairs in order, including the chance to give his wife a last goodbye. Forrest acknowledges that Ragbir technically faces deportation, but she leaves open the expectation that further appeals and protests could delay his removal indefinitely.
One might imagine, reading this opinion, that Ragbir is either scheduled to be executed or cast adrift on a rudderless raft. In fact, the government proposes to return him to his native Trinidad, where he lived until he was in his late twenties, and whose language (English) he speaks fluently. Trinidad is one of the richest countries in the Americas, with a per-capita income, as measured by purchasing-power, comparable to that of the Czech Republic or Israel. The UN ranks the country near the top of its “High Human Development” list, and human rights and press-freedom groups give Trinidad and Tobago their highest marks. Regular, direct flights between Port of Spain and JFK Airport are as affordable as domestic fares.
But Ragbir’s advocates represent repatriation as not just an inconvenience or disruption but also as a human rights violation on par with the worst brutality. At a protest outside ICE offices last weekend, Brooklyn congresswoman Yvette Clarke declaimed, “We are standing in front of a building that has become the headquarters for the Gestapo of the United States of America.” The Gestapo tortured and killed people in its headquarters; no such actions have been credibly ascribed to ICE. The ACLU of New Jersey tweeted that Forrest’s decision “affirmed the Constitution, saying we are not the kind of country that whisks people away and disappears them.” Countries that “disappear” people throw them out of airplanes over the ocean or brick their corpses into walls. There was never any question of Ragbir’s location or eventual destination.
Ragbir’s wife, Amy Gotlieb, is scheduled to attend President Trump’s State of the Union address tonight as a congressional guest; some reports suggest that Ragbir himself might attend. In committing itself so fiercely to the plight of people like Ragbir, a confessed fraudster and thief, the Left appears to believe that Americans will rouse themselves in righteous anger. They need better martyrs.
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images