A federal judge in New York ruled Monday that an illegal immigrant convicted of fraud has a constitutional “freedom to say goodbye” to his family before facing possible deportation.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement didn’t break any laws when it took Ravidath Lawrence Ragbir into custody earlier this month, but the government must release him so he can say his farewells, Manhattan Federal Court Judge Katherine B. Forrest ruled.
“There is, and ought to be in this great country, the freedom to say goodbye,” Forrest, who was appointed to the bench in 2011 by former President Barack Obama, wrote at the beginning of her seven-page opinion.
Ragbir, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, came to the United States legally and was granted permanent residency in 1994, according to the New York Daily News.
Seven years later, though, his legal residency status was revoked when he was convicted of wire fraud. Ragbir served his sentence for that crime, and was then subject to deportation.
After two years in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security, he was released in 2008 on an “order of supervision,” The Washington Times reported, meaning that though he was not being detained, he still had to check in with deportation officials.
For years, his deportation kept getting delayed, and during that time, Ragbir became an immigration rights activist. He nnow serves as executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City.
Though Ragbir knew he was subject to deportation at any time, Forrest ruled that under the U.S. Constitution’s due process clause, he must be released so he can get his affairs together and “hug” his family.
Her reasoning was that since he had been in the U.S. for so long, it wouldn’t be fair to simply deport him without warning.
Forrest did note that her ruling does not mean Ragbir won’t be deported. However, he must be provided a specific date and time when he can say goodbye beforehand.
“In sum, the court finds that when this country allowed petitioner to become a part of our community fabric, allowed him to build a life with and among us and to enjoy the liberties and freedom that come with that, it committed itself to allowance of an orderly departure when the time came,” she wrote.
“By denying petitioner these rights, the government has acted wrongly.”
In her ruling, Forrest took a thinly veiled jab at the Trump administration’s policies on immigration, suggesting that the U.S. is on its way to becoming an “unjust” regime.
“It ought not to be — and it has never before been — that those who lived without incident in this country for years are subjected 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,” she wrote.
“We are not that country; and woe be the day that we become that country under a fiction that laws allow it.”
Forrest’s ruling was praised by Ragbir, his family and other immigration rights activists.
After being released by ICE agents, the illegal immigrant took aim at President Donald Trump’s remarks on immigration, specifically, his alleged use of vulgar language to describe African nations.
“This is ethnic cleansing,” Ragbir told the Daily News. “We have built this country. They want to destroy it. This is about removing people of color and bringing in the Norways, bringing in the Europeans and getting rid of all the ‘s—hole countries.’ We have to stop this.”
His wife, Amy Gottlieb, a fellow activist who will attend Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday as the guest of New York Democrat Rep. Nydia Velazquez, said her “faith in the system has been restored.”
“I just felt so profoundly grateful,” she said.
Immigration rights groups also lauded the ruling, with Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, criticizing ICE’s attempt to deport Ragbir.
“Ravi and other immigrant rights leaders have been viciously targeted by ICE for speaking out against the injustices of our immigration system. This is a naked attempt to intimidate us into silence, but we will only get louder,” Choi said.
But an spokesman for ICE disagreed, noting in a statement to the Daily News that Ragbir is “an aggravated felon.”
“The agency is . . . concerned with the tone of the district court’s decision, which equates the difficult work ICE professionals do every day to enforce our immigration laws with ‘treatment we associate with regimes we revile as unjust,’ and is actively exploring its appellate options,” the spokesman said.