Criminalization & Trump's ICE Raids: Two Immigrant Rights Organizers Facing Deportation Speak Out
The Department of Homeland Security is saying the number of immigrants arrested over the past week has risen to 680. Raids were reported in at 11 states, including California, New York, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin. To talk more about who is being targeted, we are joined by two prominent immigrant rights advocates in New York. Both of them are also immigrants whose criminal records put them at risk of deportation. Abraham Paulos is executive director of Families for Freedom. Ravi Ragbir is executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City. Ragbir faces deportation when he goes to his ICE check-in on March 9.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: Officials said of those arrested that 75 percent were, quote, "criminal aliens." They described the raids as "routine." But more people are being detained compared to periods of routine enforcement during the Obama administration. On Monday, President Trump said he was fulfilling a campaign promise.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I said we will get the criminals out, the drug lords, the gang members. We’re getting them out. General Kelly, who’s sitting right here, is doing a fantastic job. And I said, at the beginning, we are going to get the bad ones, the really bad ones. We’re getting them out. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. I think that in the end, everyone is going to be extremely happy.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, here in New York City, immigration agents arrested at least 40 people over the last week, even though it’s a sanctuary city. Officials said 95 percent had criminal convictions. To talk more about who’s being targeted, we’re joined by two prominent immigrants’ rights activists here in New York. Both of them are also immigrants whose criminal records put them at risk of deportation. Abraham Paulos is executive director of Families for Freedom, which includes many members whose lives have been affected by the intersection of the criminal justice system and immigration enforcement. Also with us, Ravi Ragbir. He’s executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, an interfaith network that helps immigrant families stay together. Ravi faces deportation when he goes to his ICE check-in on March 9th. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Ravi, let’s start with you. Tell us your story and why you face deportation in the next few weeks.
RAVI RAGBIR: Well, like you said, I have a criminal conviction. This was back in 2000. I was convicted for fraud. Basically, what you have—what caused the collapse of the economy and what Mnuchin is now being said, he’s the foreclosure king. I ended up working for one of those organizations. And just following their own rules, I was placed in criminal proceedings, convicted. And now, because of that, I am facing deportation. I have—
AMY GOODMAN: That was more than 15 years ago.
RAVI RAGBIR: This was more than 15 years ago. I have a green card. My wife is a citizen. My daughter is a citizen. And, you know, it’s—even with that, it still doesn’t change the fact that I am in a high probability that I will be detained and deported.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: And how long have you been in the country?
RAVI RAGBIR: I’ve been in the country over 25 years.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: And under the Obama administration, what was happening? Because you had the criminal conviction 15 years ago. How were they dealing with it? And what are your worries about the changes under Trump?
RAVI RAGBIR: Well, under the Obama administration, I mean, things were still very difficult. We talked about this being a sanctuary city, and we’re not going to go into that topic right now. But he, himself, has created this machinery, this beast, this monster, that all Trump has to do is release it. And he is releasing it. You asked me what has happened with my case under the Obama administration. Well, there were still certain rules and regulations that they sort of upheld, and one of which is, when I was—while I’m still fighting my case in court, they did not deport me. And I still have my case in court, but under this administration, I’m not sure if that will have—hold any water.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: And this New Sanctuary Coalition, my understanding is it was formed almost the day after the election in November? Or—
RAVI RAGBIR: No, no.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: No?
RAVI RAGBIR: No, no, no.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: OK. But talk about coalition then.
RAVI RAGBIR: The coalition was formed in 2007—
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: OK.
RAVI RAGBIR: —under the Bush administration, when we were trying to—when they started this, because they saw the impact it had on the immigrant community, on the faith communities that we—like the old 1980s and the sanctuary of the civil rights and the Holocaust, they had to protect their members, their congregation. And they started in 2007. I took over in 2010. I’m sure you know of the Bring Jean Home Campaign. That’s when I took over. And we mobilized, and we built the sanctuary to protect our people of color immigrants. One of the things that we—you need to notice is that in 2009, when we started ICE Out of Rikers, that’s when the term "sanctuary city" started to come together, because we were the ones who initiated that nondetainer policy, I’m sure, in New York City and which became a model to all of the country.
AMY GOODMAN: We just did a segment last week on Guadalupe GarcÃa de Rayos, who was in Texas, and she was—she was in Arizona, and she was deported. She had to go to a check-in, and that’s where they picked her up. She went to this check-in every year for eight years. But this time they handcuffed her, and they deported her almost immediately. You face that same kind of check-in. Is this going to deter people from showing up at check-ins? Are you going to show up at your check-in?
RAVI RAGBIR: I am going to show up at my check-in. And it will deter people, because they will be afraid that they will be handcuffed. I used to report three times a week, in the beginning of when I was released from detention, three times a week, with a curfew and many other restrictions on my freedom. But still, even though it will cause a lot of trauma and a lot of terror in us, a lot of us will still want to go to check-ins, because we have no choice. We are caught between a beast and a shark—right?—where we don’t—no matter where we are, we will be eaten alive. And if we don’t go, we will be targeted, and we’ll become a fugitive. We’ll be—we are already on the NCIC database. And as soon as we interact with any law enforcement, we will be arrested and taken away.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: And, Abraham Paulos, tell us your story. You’re also worried about possible deportation as a result of your past history.
ABRAHAM PAULOS: Well, I mean, I wouldn’t say worried. I’m not scared about all that. I mean, I think that I came here in 1981 from Sudan. I’m Eritrean. There was a war happening there. And I actually came to the United States to another war called the war on drugs, the war on crime, the war on poverty, particularly during the '90s, which—that was the last time that immigration laws had actually passed in this country, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act and also the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. So, as much as there is a lot of worry around the priorities or what have you, I just really want to remind people that the laws haven't changed. And when they did change, it was under a Clinton administration, that continues to grow. So, George Bush, at his time of presidency, had also deported more people than any other president before. Right? And then Obama, and we’ll see how Donald Trump does. And so, essentially, you know, in 2003, I went for my citizenship, but because of my arrest, I was denied. But it was also a couple of weeks after Department of Homeland Security was, you know, sort of created. And so, what you’re seeing is this law enforcement agency, particularly Immigration and Customs Enforcement, continuing to grow. It really started in the '80s and ’90s. And so, that's essentially my story. I mean, more recently, about six, seven years ago, I got picked up in Brooklyn for a robbery that I physically couldn’t have done, but NYPD, bang-up job they do in the city, and I ended up in Rikers. And it was in Rikers that I had found out that ICE had an office in Rikers and that it was best that I leave. And that’s where Families for Freedom found me.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain that and the battle that was waged around ICE being at Rikers, what that means, that you can have two people who committed or didn’t commit a crime, because you can be at Rikers without even being convicted.
ABRAHAM PAULOS: Absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: One gets out and goes home. They serve the same amount of time there. The other one is picked up by ICE and taken away.
ABRAHAM PAULOS: Absolutely. And this has been the main way that New Yorkers have been getting deported. Right? And so, New Yorkers have been getting deported by the planeloads—pardon the pun. And usually it was through a detainer. There was also another program called Secure Communities, which is a fingerprint-sharing program that basically takes every one citizen and checks him against an immigration database. If you get a so-called hit, a detainer comes out, which is essentially a hold, that says anyone who’s held as foreign-born or a noncitizen in Rikers will be held for immigration to come pick up and start their deportation process. I just also want to like make clear that in New York, most New Yorkers who have gotten deported, their process has started with the NYPD.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about that, that process starting with the NYPD. On Saturday, hundreds protested the New York Police Department’s "broken windows" policing strategy of arresting people for low-level offenses, which can funnel them into this process that can result in deportation. This is Albert Saint Jean, who is a Haitian-American fellow with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, who was addressing Mayor Bill de Blasio.
ALBERT SAINT JEAN: He has to get his house in order, if he really wants a sanctuary city, a freedom city, you know, where we can—where we can feel free to walk around in our own communities without feeling like I did something wrong just for existing, where we don’t have to make—like, where little mistakes won’t ruin the rest of our lives.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: What about this issue of how the city administration and the police department is dealing with this issue? How was it under Mayor Bloomberg, and how has it changed, if at all, under Mayor de Blasio?
ABRAHAM PAULOS: Well, I mean, under Mayor Bloomberg, Executive Order 42 was passed, and this was sort of an amendment for Executive Order 34. And essentially what it was, was just basically regulating city agencies and their data sharing or information sharing, or collecting confidential information, which immigration status actually is. So, under Bloomberg, I mean, really, what you’re starting to see is that the NYPD—I mean, New York City is just really becoming a police state. But the NYPD is growing and growing. I mean, last year, we had 1,300 new police officers. The budget for the NYPD is around what? $75 billion. The budget for education in New York City is around what? $29 billion. And so what you’re seeing is that, particularly under de Blasio, you’re starting to see that no one is really standing up to the NYPD. And you can see this under the NYC ID, in which—that NYPD made sure that they wanted to be in the room to—so that they would accept this ID or not. And so, I think that, in general, we’re seeing more of the same, and nothing has really changed.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: But the city has said that the NYC ID information is private information, right?
ABRAHAM PAULOS: Well—
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: That it’s not going to be shared with other—with law enforcement agencies.
ABRAHAM PAULOS: That’s not necessarily true, right? So, the city—I mean, the city says a lot of things, first of all. Right? And at first, they said that they needed to collect the records or keep the records, but that’s what NYPD said. And now they’re saying they don’t need to do it. But what probably will not be destroyed are people’s names, addresses and photos. Outside of that, what more do you need?
RAVI RAGBIR: Well, I do want to address that, because—
AMY GOODMAN: Ravi Ragbir. RAVI RAGBIR: —the status does not show up on the municipal ID. So we use municipal ID as a tool to protect us in the space if there’s an ICE raid or if the ICE is coming into this area. So, the new way that they’re using municipal ID is they’re not taking any documents, keeping any documents. They’re not even scanning them. So, moving forward, anyone who’s getting a municipal ID is safe throughout the process.
ABRAHAM PAULOS: Which they should have never collected in the first place. That’s what I’m trying to say, Ravi. You know what I mean? Like, if they’re going to say, "Oh, we need this," and the NYPD, you know, says, "We need this," and then all of a sudden you don’t need it, that sounds like somebody made a mistake.
AMY GOODMAN: Can I ask you what "sanctuary" means to you?
RAVI RAGBIR: "Sanctuary" means a number of things. You know, the original meaning of "sanctuary" is where the physical space is being—is where you can seek refuge in. You have the Underground Railroad through the slave trade. You have the sanctuary through the Holocaust, which I mentioned earlier, where the building itself becomes sanctuary. But sanctuary is more than that right now. We are talking about sanctuary as being taken out of the churches, out of the houses of worship, into the streets, into the Federal Plaza, where we have our faith leaders going into immigration to work with them to protect them and stand up to the inhumanity that they’re seeing, because when they observe what is happening, we can then—they can speak to it firsthand, because they have seen what is happening and the inhumanity of what they’re observing.
AMY GOODMAN: Talking about immigration, Abraham, you are affected not only by the immigrant roundups and the people that are dealing with this, but also the Muslim ban.
ABRAHAM PAULOS: Well, I mean, yeah, I was born in an Islamic country. I mean, I think that, you know, this is about race, you know, just in general. I think we just really need to call it for what it is. We’re living under white supremacy, and we’ve been living under white supremacy for hundreds of years. Like Donald Trump is not the first white supremacist to sort of be president. We had 43 before, and some of them owned slaves. And so I think that—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we have 10 seconds. You’re wearing a T-shirt that says "deportee." Do you expect to be deported?
ABRAHAM PAULOS: I don’t—you know, I’m not afraid. I just want to put that out there. And I don’t think that our communities should be afraid of this, because this is, you know, a situation in which we’ve been dealing with for a long time.