Is ICE Targeting Immigration Activists? Protesters and Family Members of Detained and Deported Leaders Speak Out
New York City Councilmember Jumaane Williams was arrested last Thursday along with fellow City Councilmember Ydanis RodrÃguez and 16 others as they and others attempted to block an ambulance being used to transport Ravi Ragbir to detention last week. Speaking at Judson Memorial Church, Williams talked about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s inspiration and the need for civil disobedience.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: New York City Councilmember Jumaane Williams also spoke. Williams was arrested along with fellow City Councilmember Ydanis RodrÃguez and 16 others, as they and others attempted to block an ambulance being used to transport Ravi Ragbir to detention last week.
COUNCILMEMBER JUMAANE WILLIAMS: I want to say to those who question myself and Councilmember Ydanis RodrÃguez and the others that were arrested with us, who question why we were in the streets, who question why we were blocking a van with people in it—if you come out of a building with no lights and no sirens, you are a van with passengers. If you are questioning what we were doing there on Martin Luther King Day, please shut your mouth. Don’t let that man’s name come out of your lips, if you dare question why we were in those streets.
We are in the streets because we follow the best tradition of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and so many like him. There are people who want to sanitize who Dr. King was, who want to sanitize his message. But let us be clear: He was an agitator. He was a disruptor. He wanted to disrupt the norm. Do not confuse nonviolence, which I agree with, with being docile. We are going to disrupt and shut down whatever we need to do, until we make people understand we are fighting to uproot the same system that Dr. King was. And I say “uproot,” because I always want to make it clear that the system is working how it was designed to work. The people who are on the bottom are supposed to be there. We don’t need to change the system; we need to uproot it and replace it.
We in this room are in the best tradition of this country. I get upset when I hear people saying what’s happening now is not what America is, Donald Trump and his cronies are not who America are. America was founded on those values. We need to be clear about that. That is the tradition of America. But I thank the lord, that I serve, that there are people in this room who have pushed back from the beginning of this country. And we are the ones who were in the street fighting for Ravi Ragbir. We are the ones who were in the street fighting for Jean. We are the ones who are fighting for the people who are called “other” in any country.
I stand here proud, because in that street, with those folks, it was a proud, proud day. It was the closest that I’ve felt to what must have happened when people were fighting decades ago. Nobody here was there. Nobody can say that they are those people that we celebrate. But the feeling of fear that I had and understanding that the morality of what was going on dictated that I continue to move forward within that fear. So I’m here to tell folks—some people say, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be fearful. Fear is not a spirit of God.” But I’m here to tell you, while that is true, I am human, and so are you, so fear is a human emotion. But what we need is the courage that God has given us to move forward in that fear. And I feel the courage in this room to make sure we move forward, to make sure we get justice.
AMY GOODMAN: New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams, among 18 people arrested after Ravi Ragbir was detained. Jumaane Williams has also announced his intentions to explore the possibility of running for lieutenant governor here in New York.
When we come back, we’ll be joined by the relatives of both Jean Montrevil and Ravi Ragbir. And we’ll speak with Jean Montrevil, who has just arrived in Haiti after he was deported. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “It’s My Brown Skin” by Helado Negro, Black Ice Cream, singing live in our Democracy Now! studios. He begins his national tour today. To see his full performance and interview, go to democracynow.org.
Ravi Ragbir, the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC, was detained on Thursday when he went to his check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Ravi’s detention sparked a peaceful protest that was met with police violence. Police arrested 18 people, including members of the New York City Council. He is now being held in Florida and faces deportation. We speak with his wife Amy Gottlieb, a longtime immigrant rights advocate with the American Friends Service Committee.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, you mentioned Ravi, and I want to turn to Ravi Ragbir in his own words. He recorded this message on January 10, the day before he was detained.
RAVI RAGBIR: That was asked to me, is: Why have I not taken sanctuary? That was not an option for me. And the reason why that was not an option for me is because—because there were so many of you who have stood up for me, there’s so many of you who have come out around me. I hope that you will be now motivated to stop this. And I hope and I pray that you will step out of your comfort zone to create a network of safety, not just in the houses of worship, not just in the space where we call sensitive zone, but create a network of safety around you and around the community, because you refuse to let this agency act, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. You are refusing to let them come into your community and destroy it and take away those families, only because they don’t have one piece of paper. Our humanity is not dependent on a piece of paper.
AMY GOODMAN: Ravi Ragbir, executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, speaking last week, just a day before he was detained. Ravi’s detention sparked a peaceful protest that was met with police violence. Police arrested 18 people, including members of the New York City Council. He is now being held in Florida, facing deportation.
Ravi legally immigrated to the U.S. from Trinidad and Tobago more than a quarter of a century ago, but a 2001 wire fraud conviction made his green card subject to review. Even though he’s married to a U.S. citizen and has a U.S.-born daughter, the government refused to normalize his status.
Joining us now is Amy Gottlieb, Ravi Ragbir’s wife, longtime immigrant rights activist with the American Friends Service Committee.
Talk about what’s happening with Ravi right now. We’re speaking to Jean. He’s in Haiti, speaking to us on the phone, just deported. They were both, Jean and Ravi, sent to Florida. That’s where Ravi is right now?
AMY GOTTLIEB: That’s right, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Courthouse News reporter Adam Klasfeld, on Tuesday, during the hearing for Ravi Ragbir, said, “Today, an [assistant U.S. attorney] said he didn’t know why ICE detained him when they did. 'He was detained to effect removal,' … Brandon Waterman said. 'What we don't know is why they did it now.’” Can you explain?
AMY GOTTLIEB: Yeah. So, we had a hearing yesterday to try to bring—well, I mean, our ultimate goal is to get Ravi released, of course, but we were trying to get him at least brought back to the New York area so that he can have access to counsel, access to his family, access to his community, we don’t have to travel to Florida to see him.
So, there was a back-and-forth, kind of complicated legal hearing yesterday. And the judge was really saying, you know, “Why, on January 11, did you detain Ravi? What is your reasoning behind that?” Because, just like Jean, Ravi had a stay of deportation. Ravi was under an order of supervision. He had fully complied. He had not turned away. He had not tried to hide. You know, he was 100 percent in compliance with that order of supervision. So even the judge was saying, you know, “What was it, on January 11th?” Ravi actually had a stay that was valid until January 19th. So, why revoke it at that moment? And they didn’t answer.
And, you know, really, what we can—what we have to assume at this point is, after Jean was picked up, that they have made a conscious decision, at probably higher levels in ICE, to target community activists, to target people who are really willing to come out and say that this system is tearing apart families and that this system needs to be fixed.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about the fact that he’s been moved to Florida? Is there a chance you’ll get him back here?
AMY GOTTLIEB: We’re hopeful that they will bring him back, yes. We have a stay of deportation in place. The judge had initially ordered that he be detained locally, that if he’s going to be detained, it has to be in the jurisdiction of New York ICE. So, we’re hopeful we’ll get a positive decision on that from the judge today or tomorrow.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what’s taken place? We’ve had both Jean on Democracy Now!, also Ravi. We followed Ravi down the last time he went in for a check-in, and ultimately he was not detained then. Explain what happened this time. Just as Jean described being taken on the street, did they come to your house?
AMY GOTTLIEB: No, no. So, they—we had had some conversations with ICE previous to this, you know, hoping that they would grant a renewal of the stay application before we went in, so that we didn’t have to go in. They refused to do that. And up until, I think, even Wednesday, before the check-in, ICE was telling us that they had not yet made a decision on his case. They didn’t know whether they were going to extend his stay or not.
So, we decided, we’re going to go in, right? We are going to go in, surrounded by family, by community. There was a Jericho walk outside. There was a show of community support. And ICE knew that everybody was watching.
It was a little surprising, because we were asked to go to a different office inside of ICE. We were not going to the regular reporting office. We let ourselves believe that that was an OK thing, that they just kind of didn’t want chaos, or they didn’t want a lot of people on the regular check-in room. But instead, the minute we walked in, the ICE officer allowed his lawyer, Alina Das, and me to go in with Ravi. And the minute we sat down, he basically said, “This is it. This is the end of the road. We are not going to allow Ravi to stay anymore. He’s exhausted all of his legal avenues. There’s nothing more you’re going to do. This is it. We’re enforcing removal. We’re taking him into custody. He is in custody now.”
And at that moment, Ravi—I mean, I panicked, of course. Ravi just sort of looked at me, and he said, “I think I’m going to pass out.” And he actually did. He fainted. His eyes rolled back into his head. He fainted. ICE officers were kind of staring. And I was kind of yelling to get the water, at least. Ravi came to quickly, relatively quickly, and then they called for medical attention, which they have to do. So, it was at that point that I think ICE’s plans had to change a little bit, because they didn’t anticipate having to actually really take him out in an ambulance. But they did, and they did allow me to go in the ambulance with him.
So, as we were taken out, he was shackled, handcuffed. As we were taken into the ambulance, we were able to see, actually, the surge of protest, the surge of love, that had just kind of viscerally started as people heard that Ravi was detained. And we were prepared to let people know immediately. We had a structure set up so that if Ravi was going to be detained, we would just, you know, say the word, and everybody knew. So we felt that love.
But they took us down to a hospital. And as I got out of the ambulance—they told me to get out of the ambulance—the next thing I knew, they drove Ravi away. They didn’t bring him into that hospital. So, from that moment, somewhere around like 10:30 in the morning, I actually had no idea where Ravi was, until we learned maybe 9:30 that night, after his lawyer made tons of phone calls, to find out that he was taken to Miami.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the effect on your family, the effect on you right now, what this has meant, as you deal with this. And you’ve been dealing with this not just at this point, the fear of him being detained at the previous check-in and the toll it’s taken.
AMY GOTTLIEB: Yeah, it’s a huge toll. It’s devastating. You know, I mean, we have been living with this. We’ve been living with this weight on our shoulders, with this fear that this could happen. But, honestly, I still believe in the system. And I still believe that community support and the outpouring of love that we felt is going to make a difference in this.
And so, on one level, you know, going home to an empty house at night, seeing Ravi’s things, feeling his presence everywhere in our home, you know, I cry myself to sleep. I’m there. I’m torn apart. I’ve got an amazing, amazing support network of friends and family who are caring for me, being there for me, bringing me food, making sure I’m OK, regularly, constantly.
But then there’s also this piece of me that is just devastated that this is how our government treats people. You know, as an immigrant rights activist for more than 20 years, like I’ve known this, abstractly. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen families suffer. I’ve fought against the system of immigration detention. But to see my husband like snatched away from me and disappeared for—you know, I actually had no idea where he was. I heard from him Friday morning at 6 a.m.
AMY GOODMAN: And you’re an immigrants’ rights lawyer.
AMY GOTTLIEB: That’s right. So I know the system. But still, to have my husband disappeared, to have ICE not communicating with the lawyer or me to tell us where he is—they actually, on Friday, took him in a van outside of the Krome Detention Center. He didn’t know where he was going. I had no idea where he was all day Friday also. And when I finally went down to see him, you know, fly to Miami to see my husband, I get a one-hour visit through Plexiglass, right? Like, so it’s extraordinary, the impact that it has on a person, on relationships. And I’m still sort of just, you know, barely walking through this.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a part of the interview we did with Ravi Ragbir last year. We’ll go to that clip in a minute, Ravi in our studio here. Let’s go to that.
RAVI RAGBIR: It clouds where I need to be. You know, I need to be always aware that even though I may—that even though I may have support, I have to think about those who do not have support. So I always have to be ready to think about the consequences of a policy change on someone who do not have—who do not have that support. But, you know, what you saw yesterday is those immigrants who says I’ve been a role model for them, so that they are now speaking up, and they are now empowered to go out and speak to the elected officials and go out and advocate for themselves and go out even though something may go wrong. They know that, as they go through this process, it will be good for them, because they’re ready for every step of the way. So, I do not want to be a role model, but I have been told I am.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Ravi Ragbir in our studio last year, with Amy Gottlieb, his wife, who also is an immigrants’ rights attorney. Do you think he and Jean have been targeted? Why now? Why have they been taken, after both of them have been in this country for well over, well, a quarter of a century and more than 30 years?
AMY GOTTLIEB: That’s the only conclusion we can draw, that they’ve been targeted. We’ve been hearing about people being targeted around the country now. And it’s mystifying why suddenly that—you know, Ravi also still has a legal case. Like nothing has changed in Ravi’s case since the last check-in in March, right? We are still in the same legal posture. He’s got a case pending, and we’re hopeful that that case is going to take away the grounds of deportability. So, there’s no doubt that both Ravi and Jean—Ravi, especially more recently, has really been speaking out, has been educating communities, has been leading an accompaniment program, so that people are witnessing how ICE is treating immigrants.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to an interview I did this weekend in Colorado, in Carbondale, with Sandra Lopez, who has taken sanctuary in Colorado. She’s a Mexican mother of three U.S. citizen children. She has taken sanctuary to avoid being deported to Mexico. Last weekend, I went to the [Unitarian] parsonage in Carbondale. We had a long conversation, and we’re going to play that in the coming days. But I asked her about the news that ICE agents had just arrested the husband of another woman who had taken sanctuary, Ingrid Latorre, a Colorado immigrant rights leader who has sought sanctuary to avoid her deportation. Ingrid’s husband Eliseo was arrested Thursday, the same day Ravi Ragbir was detained here in New York City. This is Sandra Lopez.
SANDRA LOPEZ: [translated] Being a leader isn’t easy. And they want to try and separate us and prevent us from working together. But we talk a lot. I’m extremely angry about what happened to Eliseo, Ingrid’s husband. It has affected me a lot. It’s affected me as a mother, as thinking about myself as a wife and a friend to Ingrid. And I see this as an attack on sanctuary. And I want Ingrid to know that she’s not alone. We’re here. We’re angry. And we’re supporting her. We’re supporting Eliseo. They are doing this to try and weaken us. They want to frighten us and divide us. But, no, we need to be astute. We need to be organized. We need to leave behind the fear and the shadows and continue raising our voices. There’s the quote that “divided, we fall.” We’re going to stay strong and united, and we’re going to continue defending our dignity and defending sanctuary.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Sandra Lopez in the Episcopal parsonage in Carbondale, there for three months with her 2-year-old, Areli. And she is saying, “I want Ingrid,” another woman who has taken sanctuary, “to know she is not alone,” because Eliseo, Ingrid’s husband, was surrounded by ICE agents and taken. And that was on the same day—
AMY GOTTLIEB: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —that Ravi Ragbir, here in New York, was taken.
AMY GOTTLIEB: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to get a final comment from both of you, before we go to Seattle to speak with Maru Mora Villalpando, who we’ve spoken to numerous times, a well-known immigrants rights leader, who herself is now fearful that she is going into deportation hearings. Your final comments, Amy?
AMY GOTTLIEB: I say we need to fight this. We need to continue fighting. What we have seen since Ravi was detained, since Jean were deported, or detained and then deported, and since all these other cases are popping up, that the community support is coming out and that it is making people stronger, more united, as Sandra said. We are coming together, and we are going to fight this. This attempt by ICE to knock us down, to put us away, is not going to be successful. We are going to continue moving this. And we’ve got Jani, and we’ve got Maru. We’ve got a ton of people on this who are going to make it happen.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Jean Montrevil, you’re still on the phone with us from Haiti. I’m wondering, in this final moment we have with you, if you could comment on the reports that President Trump talked about Haiti, as he did African countries and El Salvador, as—well, I won’t say the word that he used—as s—hole countries, curse-hole countries. Do you think that has something to do with why you’re back in Haiti today, his attitude toward Haiti, which he said, reportedly, in The New York Times, just weeks ago—talked about everyone in Haiti having AIDS, and not wanting people from your country in ours?
JEAN MONTREVIL: Amy, I’ve got to tell you, when I got here, the officials of Haiti who received us, that was the first statement we received, is that what Trump said about Haiti was unacceptable, it was racist and so forth. We did get a good reception from the Haitian government. I have to say that. They treated us fairly. It was a long process, but it was fair. And they’re upset about Trump. And that’s coming from an official of Haiti. He’s one of the secretaries of the [inaudible]. And they did not like that.
AMY GOODMAN: And let me end with Jani here, Jani Cauthen, after President Trump reportedly called the country where Jean was born “s—hole countries,” talking about not wanting people from Haiti in the United States, right at this time that Jean has been deported.
JANI CAUTHEN: Number 45, he’s very ignorant. So I don’t even entertain that comment. I just look at his actions. Every time he opens his mouth, everything Obama did, he tried to undo. He’s in the front page of the Daily News today. His alleged mistress, a porn star, came out. She says she tried to come out a couple years ago, but the Times refused to share her story. His wife, she can never compare to Michelle Obama. If Michelle Obama was caught in bed with other women and doing the things she did, she would be impeached immediately. So that’s all I’m going to say. Number 45 has a lot to do with this whole situation. And hopefully one day he’ll be impeached.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there, Jani Cauthen, the former wife of Jean Montrevil, a mother of three of Jean’s four children. Jean Montrevil, joining us directly from Haiti, where he has been deported to, just yesterday. And Amy Gottlieb, the wife of Ravi Ragbir, who’s now in detention in Florida in deportation proceedings. They’re trying to get him back to New York and have him released to where he has lived for well over two decades.