Was immigrant activist targeted for deportation to silence him?

Activist Ravi Ragbir leads a coalition of 150 faith-based pro-immigrant groups referred to collectively as the New Sanctuary Coalition. He is one of several immigrant rights activists who seem to have been targeted for deportation because of their outspoken political beliefs.

Ragbir, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, has a criminal conviction and is legally subject to deportation. However, his case had been essentially on hold while he appealed his 2001 mortgage fraud conviction. That all changed on Jan. 11, when a routine check-in with immigration officials turned into an arrest and a new deportation order.

His detention provoked large protests in New York City. Two city council members ended up arrested.

The week before Ragbir’s arrest, another leader of the New Sanctuary Coalition was arrested and deported to Haiti. Jean Montrevil had served out an 11-year sentence for drug sales, so he was also lawfully deportable.

Last month, an immigration activist got media attention after she sought sanctuary in a church to avoid deportation. Her husband has now been detained.

Are these instances of the government intentionally silencing dissent? Or, as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services insists, are they simply examples of people with criminal records being routinely deported?

“These activists have been surveilled, intimidated, harassed and detained, their homes raided, many have been plucked off the street in broad daylight, and some have even been deported,” claims a lawsuit filed by Ragbir just before he was scheduled to be deported.

Federal prosecutors have agreed that Ragbir will not be deported until the lawsuit is heard, which is expected to occur in late March.

Separately, he has also asked a court to put his deportation on hold while he appeals his old criminal conviction. He has tried and failed to obtain appellate relief in the past. The motion was heard in a courtroom filled with Ragbir’s supporters.

Last week, a federal judge ordered Ragbir released. The judge stated that he had not received sufficient time to say goodbye to his family, but she also expressed “grave concern” that he might have been targeted due to his political activities.

Ragbir said in a statement that he feels obligated to speak out “against the injustices in the system.”

“This lawsuit is not just about me, he said. “It is about all of the members of our community who are speaking out in our struggle for immigrant rights.”