Director of Bronx Legal Services Family and Immigration Unit and Co-Founder of the Bronx Immigration Partnership, Terry Lawson, shares why she #standswithRavi.
The original article was published in Manhattan Times on February 8, 2017. It can be found here
On January 11, 2018, Ravi Ragbir, the Executive Director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, one of the partner organizations of the Bronx Immigration Partnership, which I co-founded with Ravi and others in 2014, was arrested and detained by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE). The New Sanctuary Coalition NYC, an interfaith network that stands in solidarity with communities resisting deportation, appeared on my radar in 2014. A surge of Garifuna women and children from Honduras had appeared at the U.S.-Mexican border seeking asylum. Churches with large numbers of Garifuna congregants began reaching out for help for the women. Ravi invited me and others to strategize about the need. I walked into a meeting room, nestled in a church basement, and sat at a crowded conference table with faith leaders, volunteers, and advocates. Ravi sat at one end of the table and said, “We are here because we care about the great numbers of people coming from Honduras, and we don’t want anyone falling through the cracks. How are we going to make sure that no one misses their asylum filing deadline?” At about this same time, President Obama announced plans to expand DACA and a new program for parents of U.S. born children, known as DAPA. With the convergence of the surge of Central America migrants and DACA+/DAPA, we created the Bronx Immigration Partnership, a coordinated safety net of legal and social services for Bronx residents. For the past three years, BIP has been meeting, conducting outreach, and educating the community, and Ravi and the New Sanctuary Coalition NYC have been integral members of our Bronx family.
Under an order of supervision by ICE, due to an old removal order, Ravi has been checking in with ICE, without incident, for the past twelve years. Until January 11, 2018. Upon learning that he would be detained during his check-in, Ravi fainted in the ICE office with his wife, Amy Gottlieb, an immigration attorney. When he came to, Ravi was handcuffed and placed in an ambulance. Unwilling to allow Ravi to be taken away, City Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams, and dozens of others used civil disobedience to block the departure of the vehicle.
On Monday, January 29, 2018, New Sanctuary Coalition NYC conducted a Jericho Walk seven times around 26 Federal Plaza, the scene of Ravi’s arrest. I joined the group, walking with them around the building I have appeared in numerous times as an immigration lawyer. Navigating the swarms of cameras, I looked up to see a red-faced man holding a large sign with the words, “Deport Ravi”, in thick black marker. He and his companion scowled at us, their glares seeping in with the frigid air, past my protective layers. The second time around, I looked straight ahead, pulling my head back into the massive hood of my winter coat. As we walked, I thought about protest and counter-protest, about xenophobia and racism, and about solidarity and community. Each time I passed through their gauntlet, I felt a bit stronger, a bit more resolved to say #IStandWithRavi, feeling the yin and yang of change willing me forward.
Two days later, Ravi and Amy, dozens of advocates and volunteers, and Ravi’s fierce attorney, Alina Das, stood on the steps of City Hall with the New York City Council, acknowledging the words of Judge Forrest, who upon releasing Ravi from detention, had written, “It ought not to be — and it has never before been — that those who have 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. We are not that country; and woe be the day that we become that country under a fiction that laws allow it.” I hugged Ravi, grateful for the opportunity to put my arms around my colleague.
Ravi is scheduled to be deported this Saturday, February 10, 2018. Judge Forrest could not offer Ravi a reprieve from his deportation, only “the freedom to say goodbye.” We are not this country, are we? A country that could send away a husband, a father, a man of faith, a resident here for 27 years, an advocate. I sent Ravi an email last February, asking if I could send a someone to his clinic. Ravi’s response? “You can send her on Tuesday 14th. I know it is Valentine’s Day but I ‘love’ my work.” My sincere hope for Ravi and Amy and New Sanctuary Coalition NYC is that this February 14th, Ravi will be spending his Valentine’s day as he did last year – helping immigrants in need – and not in exile from his home and his family.