Immigration Law

ICE can’t target immigration activist for policy criticisms, 2nd Circuit rules

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A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that an immigration activist demonstrated that government officials targeted him for deportation after he criticized U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and immigration policy.

In the opinion, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New York held that Ravidath Ragbir’s allegations are enough to block his deportation until at least January 2020, Courthouse News Service and New York Daily News report. The appeals court also revived Ragbir’s claim that he was being deported to stop his activism, holding that his “speech implicates the apex of protection under the First Amendment.”

“His advocacy for reform of immigration policies and practices is at the heart of current political debate among American citizens and other residents,” Judge Christopher Droney wrote in the opinion, which vacated the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York’s decision in the case.

Ragbir, a native and citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, became a lawful permanent resident of the United States in 1994.

In 2001, he was convicted of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey and sentenced to 30 months in prison. ICE detained him after he was released, and an immigration judge entered an order of removal against him based on the convictions in August 2006.

ICE released Ragbir from detention in February 2008, and he continued to live and work in the United States. He received four administrative stays of removals—in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2016—with the latest one scheduled to terminate in January 2018.

According to the opinion, Ragbir became an outspoken activist on immigration issues after he was released from detention. He and Jean Montrevil co-founded the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York, which sends volunteers to accompany those living in the country illegally to court dates and ICE check‐in appointments.

He claimed that ICE began to retaliate against him for his public statements and their coverage in the media, the opinion says. In January 2018, ICE arrested Montrevil and deported him.

New York City Minister Micah Bucey and other faith leaders met with ICE’s New York Field Office Deputy Director Scott Mechkowski to discuss Montrevil’s case. According to Ragbir’s complaint and Bucey’s sworn declaration, the opinion says, Mechkowski told them, “Nobody gets beat up in the news more than we do, every single day. It’s all over the place, … how we’re the Nazi squad, we have no compassion.”

Mechkowski also told them “the other day Jean [Montrevil] made some very harsh statements. … I’m like, ‘Jean, from me to you … you don’t want to make matters worse by saying things,’” the opinion says.

A few days later, Mechkowski told Ragbir that ICE officials decided to deny his application for a renewed stay of removal, and that ICE would now enforce the removal order against him. Ragbir learned that ICE also revoked his current stay of removal, which was to last eight more days.

Attorney R. Stanton Jones, who represents Ragbir, told Courthouse News Service that the 2nd Circuit correctly held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from retaliating against political dissidents by deporting them.

“Today’s decision will allow Mr. Ragbir to continue his important work advocating for the rights of immigrants in this country and for reforming immigration practices and ICE policies that are unjust,” Jones said.

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