By Amy Gottlieb, American Friends Service Committee
Jan. 11, 2019
Exactly a year ago, I sat in a cold conference room as a stone-faced senior official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told my husband Ravi Ragbir that he was being detained. Ravi’s lawyer and I desperately tried to convince the officer not to detain Ravi – there were still legal avenues we were pursuing to prevent his deportation. But the officer just became more aggressive, and Ravi was handcuffed and escorted out.
Ravi fainted, and was taken in handcuffs to a local hospital. Our friends, family and community protested in the streets, amidst a violent reaction from local and federal police. Nineteen people were arrested, including members of New York’s city council, and Ravi was flown to a detention center in Miami for deportation.
One year later, Ravi is home with me, thanks to international outcry against his detention, brilliant work by our legal team, an order from a federal judge ruling his detention unconstitutional, and the intervention of two federal courts that have prevented his deportation while they consider his legal remedies.
After 18 days in detention, Ravi was released. And he was also able to return to his work as the Executive Director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, where he has worked for years to support and expand rights and protections for immigrants. We believe that he is being targeted for deportation because of his activism, and because he has spoken out publicly against our unjust immigration policies. And it was the strength of the movement Ravi worked to build that eventually helped secure his release.
The circumstances and visibility of Ravi’s case is unique, but he is just one of thousands of people who is targeted for detention and deportation every year. Right now, the Trump administration is demanding enough funding for ICE to detain 52,000 people per night, and more than 256,000 people were deported in 2018. Thousands more wait in fear and uncertainty for unaccountable and often hostile bureaucracies to make decisions about our future.
As an immigration advocate, I have known for many years that our immigration system can be cruel, but until Ravi was taken I never understood how brutal it is to live each day knowing that the government is working to break apart my family. Ravi is home, but he is still facing deportation.
Together, we face each day not knowing whether we will get a court decision that will allow him to stay, or whether the government will win and he will be forced to return to Trinidad, his country of birth where he has not lived for over twenty years. And because of that we are in constant crisis mode, always looking around, always wondering if something will fall apart and we will lose everything we have worked for.
Since Ravi returned home we have lived our lives on edge, with ongoing court cases, hearings, and ICE report dates scheduled and then canceled and then scheduled again. I check my phone each day, full of anxiety that a legal decision has been issued, afraid of what the decision will say. Will they decide to lift one of the Stays of Deportation? Or will they decide that Ravi’s First Amendment rights were violated? Will the court find significant errors in Ravi’s criminal court case so many years ago? If not, what will give us justice? We just wait, every day, for something to happen.
In some ways, we are lucky. We are protected by two Stays of Deportation, so we are able to be together and Ravi can focus on his work to support immigrants and challenge these unjust systems. But in other ways the waiting is agony. It is hard to make plans, accept invitations, hard to think about any time off or travel for pleasure. While Ravi is now free, the constant threat of deportation gives us the feeling that our future is detained.
The policies that hold our future hostage – that threaten thousands of families and communities across this country – do not serve our national interest. Our communities are stronger when families are together, and when people like Ravi can do the work of making the world better without fear that they might lose everything they have built.
I have a dream that we will get through this nightmare, that one day Ravi will be here without fear that he will be sent back to Trinidad. And I dream that families across the nation will wake up with a similar burden lifted, knowing their loved ones are safe. We will wake up in the morning to real freedom, freedom from the oppression that the government has imposed. And from there we can begin the path to healing from the trauma of living under these threats for so long.
Amy Gottlieb is the associate regional director of the Northeast Region of American Friends Service Committee.