Appeals court sides with prominent immigrant rights leader intentionally targeted by ICE

A court has sided with an immigrant rights leader who said he has been targeted for deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement last year for his activism and outspoken criticism of the agency’s policies. “Immigration activist Ravi Ragbir can remain in the United States for now because it’s possible ICE wrongly tried to muzzle his advocacy by kicking him out of the country, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.”

Ragbir’s January 2018 arrest by federal immigration agents during what was supposed to be a routine ICE check-in sparked protests in his home of New York City. He was released from ICE custody that month, when “United States District Judge Katherine Forrest ruled that the ‘the government acted wrongly’ and with ‘unnecessary cruelty’” in detaining him. 

In one example cited by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals this week, Scott Mechkowski, ICE’s deputy director in the state, appeared to threaten New Sanctuary of New York cofounder Jean Montrevil for criticisms of ICE. “Jean, from me to you,” he said, “you don’t want to make matters worse by saying things.” Mechkowski also reportedly complained that it “bothered” him that “everybody knows” Ragbir’s case.

Ragbir still faced deportation after decades here, following a judge ruling last spring that “his decision to speak does not confer upon him an immunity from the enforcement of a pre-existing final order of removal.” Ragbir kept fighting, and he is safe from deportation for now. “A plausible, clear inference is drawn that Ragbir’s public expression of his criticism, and its prominence, played a significant role in the recent attempts to remove him,” the court said.

This wouldn’t be the first time ICE has targeted critics, and the appeals court decision represents a significant victory for advocates. His attorney R. Stanton Jones said that “The Second Circuit correctly held that the First Amendment to our Constitution prohibits the government from openly and forcefully retaliating against political dissidents by deporting them, and the court further correctly held that Mr. Ragbir is entitled to pursue his First Amendment challenge in federal court.”

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