Michael Slate Interview with Ravi Ragbir, Immigrant Activist Leader:

“There is a warfare against the immigrant community”

February 5, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


The following is excerpted from a February 2, 2018 interview with Ravi Ragbir, executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, on The Michael Slate Show on KPFK Pacifica radio.
The Michael Slate Show airs every week at 10 am Pacific Time on KPFK 90.7 FM in Los Angeles, a Pacifica Network station. The show is archived here.

Revolution/revcom.us features interviews from The Michael Slate Show to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theatre, music and literature, science, sports, and politics. The views expressed by those interviewed are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere by Revolution/revcom.us.


Michael Slate: In January of this year immigrant rights leader Ravi Ragbir was arrested by ICE when he appeared for his scheduled check-in. The detention of Ravi by ICE is an escalation of the Trump regime’s war on the sanctuary and immigrants rights movement, and a chilling ratcheting up of repression overall, using ICE as a political police to go after leaders of resistance. Ravi is the director of the immigrant advocacy group New Sanctuary Coalition in New York, a collection of 150 faith-based organizations. He became a U.S. resident in 1994. In the early 2000s, the system came down on him hard, threatening to deport him, and he’s been fighting that ever since. More than that, he’s been fighting not just for himself but for immigrants all over. Ravi, welcome to the show.

Ravi Ragbir: Thank you.

Michael Slate: On January 11 you walked into what you expected to be a routine check-in at an ICE office in Manhattan but then you were surprised. What actually happened?

Ravi Ragbir: What happened is, again, this was supposed to be a routine check-in, and we had submitted a request for a stay of removal, which we had gotten in the past. In the past, the agency will look at the equities of the person in the community, looking at community equity and all the things that this person has in their favor, and would have given a stay of removal. In this instance, the deputy director called us up in his office, and that in itself was unique, because normally it would be just one of the regular deportation officers.

As we were sitting there, he’s talking to my wife and my attorney and myself and saying, “OK, we are getting ready to enforce this removal order.” My attorney... we were all in shock. In fact you know what? I fainted. But even before that, my attorneys were like, “Why are you doing this?” Because we still have an appeal in, and there are still legal options that they are looking to work through. It didn’t matter—it did not matter at all. Their goal was to remove me from the United States of America.

A Question of the Humanity of Immigrants

Michael Slate: You’ve been here for 27 years, and for a very significant period of that time you’ve been required to report into ICE in Manhattan, even though at one point you were granted residence status, right?

Ravi Ragbir: Yes, I had a green card from 1994 until it was taken away in 2006. And that was because of a criminal conviction back in 2000. I don’t like to talk about the merits of the conviction because there are many people who have convictions and they have criminalized the immigrant community with talking about “good immigrant—bad immigrant” and using the criminal justice system to punish and double-punish people and put them in permanent exile. So I have a criminal conviction and as a result I am facing deportation—and that in itself is a double jeopardy, a double punishment. We have to be talking about people who have been through the system as if they were animals and less than humans—because we have already went down a slippery slope  when you do that. What will happen is what happened in Arizona in 2010—suddenly every single immigrant is a criminal just because they’re immigrants.

Michael Slate: Yeah, it’s extremely important. It’s a question of whether immigrants are going to be treated as human beings or not.

Ravi Ragbir: That’s true. Think about this, right? They tell us we are “taking people’s jobs away.” And then in the same breath, they are going to say we are a drain to society because we are getting welfare and we are “taking advantage of the system.” How hypocritical is that? They are using contrary arguments in the same sentence. But it is not about whether they contradict each other—it is that they want to remove people. I’ve been saying ethnic cleansing, but they told me to stop talking about ethnic cleansing because it’s really, really harsh. But you heard them talk about the s-hole countries and stopping people from those s-hole countries—the Caribbean, Africa. And then in the same breath they will say we need to have more people like from Norway, for instance. Isn’t that an outrageous statement? And isn’t that an obvious statement of what he wants to do and what his populist supporters want to do? They want to make this a white America. And America has never been white. The Native Americans were never white. The pioneers, the people who came here, may have been white but there were non-whites already living here.

Targeting the Leaders of the Immigrant Rights Movement

Michael Slate: You’ve been reporting regularly to ICE over a period of time and suddenly, this time, they decided to grab you. What was behind that?

Ravi Ragbir: We did not know this at the time. We were seeing something but we didn’t put it together. It was about taking away the leaders of the immigrant movement. There is already an affidavit written by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the habeas case that was brought forth on Monday. They said they “war gamed” it. This was about “war games.” They sat down and they worked out the details. This was a war against the immigrant community and it is a war against the immigrant community. It’s a psychological warfare. They want to destroy any hope that people have and if they take away the leaders they will. When people are seeing it and hearing it, they will assume, “OK, look at Ravi. Ravi has all this community support and yet he was still deported. What chance do I have?”

And what happens is what you see happening with the Haitians where their TPS [Temporary Protected Status] has been revoked. And instead of fighting their case, instead of knowing that there is a process to fight it, they are fleeing up to Canada. Some people have fled on the coldest nights, they have lost fingers and toes, just trying to get to a place of safety.

There is a warfare against the immigrant community, and taking away the leadership is part of the strategy, including myself, Jean Montrevil, Maru Mora-Villalpando and many others who have been targeted and taken away. So it is deliberate. What we’re seeing here is the administration going after us and going after sanctuary cities because we are the obstacle stopping them from doing their horrendous cleansing of the Brown and Black community who are a part of the United States.

Importance of Hundreds of People Stepping Up Against Deportation of Ravi

Michael Slate: When you went to ICE, people did show up in large numbers to support you. They gathered outside the ICE office to show that support and when they heard that you were being detained they tried to stop it. Let’s talk about what happened because it is fairly significant.

Ravi Ragbir: We were aware that something was happening because a week before that the community was telling us, “Wait a minute, there are strange cars outside.” And upon investigation we realized it was ICE looking for me and looking to take me away on January 3 even though I had to check in on January 11. You’ll find that this is their strategy now. They’re telling you to come in on a day but go against their own process. They are violating their own process by snatching you away. So you’re not prepared, you haven’t said your goodbyes. That’s part of the warfare. “Let’s really make this very painful for the families and for the community that we are ripping you apart from and you can’t do anything.”

So we were ready for that, we expected that. We have an accompaniment program where we partner U.S. citizens with non-citizens who are in removal proceedings. What you saw happening on January 11 was an accompaniment on steroids, where we are not going to accept someone being deported. The community itself was stepping up to that. What you saw... the hundreds of people who were there to stop my deportation. This was supposed to be peaceful; this was a peaceful interaction that always happens whenever I went to check-in. But when you saw the individuals coming out of the violence that was perpetrated on the committee, it was very, very evident. You saw Rev. Ruiz being snatched by the throat and thrown to the ground. You saw the councilman being beaten and then flung onto the hood of a car. Another councilman was put in a choke hold by NYPD. What you didn’t see as much was elderly grandmothers who would just be thrown, picked up, and thrown from one side to the other.

I was just having lunch when you called and we were talking about who was there watching—how they were treating the grandmothers, these people who are frail, who you think you would be more careful about. But they, the NYPD, were told this has to stop. They’re not going to allow any committee to ask that Ravi shall not be deported. They had blood in their eyes, and that was the goal, to stop anything, to shut it down. What you saw happening was that. It was overkill, it was overzealousness because they feel that they should be able to do anything they want to. That is the breakdown you have when we have a society where your agencies of protection are now the ones who will cause you harm.

Brutality at Krome Detention Center

Michael Slate: Now Ravi, you eventually ended up being shipped off to Krome in Florida. Krome is the equivalent of a concentration camp. They shipped a lot of Haitian people to Krome over the last few decades; in the ’90s they shipped huge numbers of Haitian people to that place, where people were left in the most horrendous conditions, held there until they could be shipped off to Haiti or until they died. I want to talk about that, what you found there.

Ravi Ragbir: So what’s most bizarre was that normally they would process me ... and probably take me to a location pretty close to New York and New Jersey. Yet that didn’t happen. When I fainted and they took me to the hospital, there were 20 people, 10 ICE officers and 10 NYPD officers looking at me. I was shackled to the bed and I was surrounded with 20 people and it was bizarre. I was looking at it like an out-of-body experience—what the hell is happening? And from the hospital they took me straight to the airport, which is something that is unique to this. There was a 10-car escort—10 vehicles taking me to the airport. It was only myself, no other detainees, no other immigrants, it was just myself. The resources they allocated to this was unbelievable. Within hours from the time they arrested me, put me in handcuffs [at] 26 Federal Plaza, which was around 11:00 am, I was in a plane to Miami at 4:00 pm. This is how organized and how carefully planned this was.


And when they took me to Florida they were going to house me in Krome, but the next day the goal, the intention, was to take me to a plane to Trinidad. Even though there was a hold, a stay of removal from the court, I was sitting there listening to them, looking at the computer and looking at the courts that said you can’t deport Ravi—and their whole intention was to ignore that order. Fortunately, they did not and that’s why I’m here.

But when I was in Krome I met hundreds of people who literally felt that they had no hope. An example of that, you heard a story of 82 Somalians were put on a plane to Somalia, a charter plane, and when the Somalia government refused them they were kept on that plane for over 48 hours. No restroom available—48 hours without restroom, 48 hours shackled to each other and shackled to the plane and 48 hours with barely any food to eat.

And then in addition to that, they were physically abused and beaten by the ICE officers. After all of that, when they brought them back, you’d think they would have the decency to release these people. They were still being kept at the Krome facility. It was meant to punish; it was meant to break people’s spirits when you’re taken into detention. They separate you from your family, and your loved ones. I was sent to Florida because they know I have community here. They knew my lawyers were here. But the goal is to separate me so that I will want to give up.

Fortunately, I am not giving up. When I spoke to them in Krome, I told them they cannot give up. Every single one of them has to stand up to this agency, and there will be people who will support them. There’ll be people who will be there for them. And they have been able to contact New Sanctuary here, and they’ve been able to provide some assistance for a number of them who are in Krome. And who are in Orange County [New York] where they took me from Krome after the judge forced them to bring me back up to New York.

Michael Slate: What happened when you came back to New York?

Ravi Ragbir: They tried very hard to ask the judge to keep me in Florida. In fact, they went one step beyond that. They were telling the judge to remove the stay of removal. So even though there was a court case, if the judge had removed the stay of removal, they would have put me on a plane immediately. There was no question. I would have been on a plane and they would have said, “Well, the judge did not stop it.”

So the judge forced them to bring me back up, and I was taken to Orange County Correctional Facility, which is a two-hour drive from New York City. Even though it was so far, it was still better than Florida, because my family would visit me, as well as my lawyers. I had a visit every single day by the community. People were coming up there because two hours’ drive is better than flying down to Florida.

My wife spent hundreds of dollars a week so that she and I can talk on the phone. Hundreds of dollars! When you’re put in these places, they make it as difficult as possible, so that people can keep in touch with their family. Again, to break their spirits, to destroy them so that they want to give up. The food in Orange County was horrible. You couldn’t believe how little they feed you. They say it’s according to the nutritional guidelines, but you are starving. You cannot survive on what they are giving you, because it is not enough to feed a grown man so that he will be able to go through the day.

Michael Slate: The New Sanctuary Coalition saying something that is very important, which is there’s a real need for this movement to grow and expand and fight.

Ravi Ragbir: The path the New Sanctuary has taken is unsurprisingly the path of nonviolence. In the same way of Mahatma Ghandi and Rev. Martin Luther King, which talks about nonviolence. We are following that same premise, because their whole goal is violence. They want to violate you. They want to impose violence on you. And if you respond violently, it justifies their action. What we have done is breaking that cycle of violence. So it may sound as if it’s bleeding heart liberal, stuff like that, but it is imperative, it is critical to understand that when you are stopping them from acting in the way that they have been acting, by removing that violent element, they don’t know what to do. When you have these grandmothers and these faith leaders standing up to these officers, either they do what you see happened on January 11, which is totally overzealously become violent, but then when that happens, you will have what you saw what happened in the habeas court when the judge says, “We are becoming a country of those regimes we revile, and we are very close to that because of the policies and the way the policies are implemented.”

In the New Sanctuary, we know we have to connect with each other. And yes, we can be in the streets, and yes, we want to protest, but we need to go one step more. We actually have to go inside. And what New Sanctuary has been doing is teaching people to go inside—to go inside in defiance of saying this is an isolated area, only the immigrants are allowed in. No. We are citizens, U.S. citizens, and we have a right to be there and to partner with non-citizens because they are part of our community.

Michael, listen, I was in detention on Monday. And then on Tuesday night, I was in Congress for the State of the Union. I was sitting there listening to those cruel words issued by the administration. But I sat there and did that in a form of defiance—you want to deport me, you want to destroy the community. We are looking at you and saying that we are going to stand up to you.

And that’s what New Sanctuary does. It stands up to the violence that happens inside. So we have training. We have accompaniment programs where we train you. You think you know it and you’ve done it, but unless you’ve been trained in the creative ways that people have understood to respond to the violence, you will not be effective during this process.

So New Sanctuary has taken a very unique strategy to engage physically with the entity that is trying to destroy us. Truly, it is the citizens that are standing up and we need to have more and more people step up to stop this.

Trump/Pence Regime’s Ethnic Cleansing

Michael Slate: Recently you compared the way that Trump has slammed down on immigrants lately to ethnic cleansing. These attacks are coming every day, and they’re coming on harder and harder. The New Sanctuary put out a report that said that more people are in sanctuary today, directly because of attacks on immigrants, than ever before.

Ravi Ragbir: You just have to listen to his words. His recent words about the African countries and the Caribbean countries, using very descriptive language about them. And then his whole invitation to Europeans, we need to have more Europeans, as if the color of your skin actually makes you better than someone who is darker.

Just those words alone already put you in an understanding of what has happened. They will say, this is about integration, this is about the right to allow who we want to allow in the country. But it’s not just about who they want to allow in the country. It’s about what they have been doing to remove people who have been living here 20 years, and 30 years, or even 10 years. When I was in Krome, I met a father who was there for 30 years. He’d been living in this country for 30 years. When I was at Orange County, there was this father whose son is in the Navy right now, and he has been here for 20 years. These are the people who are being deported, who are forcibly being removed. If you look at the numbers, you will see that it is countries of a particular ethnic background, Brown and Black countries who are in the majority of people getting deported.

And then look at their faces. I want you to stop looking at the numbers. I want you to start looking at the faces, the people who are being affected. You will see that it is the Mexicans, the Colombians, the Caribbeans, the Africans that are being deported. And you will say, OK, you are just sending people away who weren’t born here. But they are actually trying to force the family to leave. One of the judges said to the prisoners, “Well, if you miss your family, all you need to do is to Skype them or call them on the phone.”

How insensitive is that?! When you think a Skype call is going to replace your presence as a father of the family? That is the insensitivity, but it is an insensitivity with an intent that these people are not welcome here, and they want to make that clear. And that’s not enough. They are going after the immigrant community. You’ve heard the director of ICE saying that he’s very happy to implement the administration agenda to remove people.

“To win we have to come together”

Michael Slate: You’re facing a hearing coming up in February. In addition to protecting you and fighting for you, there’s the bigger question of what’s coming down. So, how can people find out more about what’s happening with you, and with the New Sanctuary Coalition?

Ravi Ragbir: They can go to the website. The website has been updated so that everything that has happened in the last three weeks is on the website, newsanctuarynyc.org. If you sign up there you will be given updates about what is happening, what you can do and how you can get involved. There are other websites particular to my campaign.

I did not do this alone, Michael. There are many people who stepped up to stop this deportation: my friends, my legal team, my wife, my community, the staff, the churches, they all stepped up, and they very aggressively were involved in stopping my deportation. You saw that manifested in the court decision where we never expected that decision. I think that is going to have a ripple effect through the legal community because they are starting to understand what the regime is doing here and that if they don’t step up, it’s a really, really dangerous slide to fascism, which we need to stamp out.

So if you go to www.newsanctuarynyc.org, you will be able to find out, and even if you are in California, or in Michigan, you can make a difference, you can get involved, because this is connected. Unless we do this as a community throughout the country, we will not win. To win we have to come together.


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