Activists and several City Council members are marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day by rallying for the release of immigration rights leader Ravi Ragbir from the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Roughly 200 ralliers took part in a Jericho walk, a form of prayer and protest, around artist Ai Wei Wei’s sculpture on migration, called “Arch,” in Washington Square Park around noon.
Manhattan resident and New Sanctuary volunteer Kathleen Kralovec, 37, said she attended the rally to protest exclusionary politics as well as Ragbir’s arrest.
"The recent detention of Ravi Ragbir is really disheartening to a lot of people and we are very hopeful that our visibility will help the public to see that he needs to be released,” Kralovec said. "I believe that humans do have a right to migrate when it's not safe in their own country. When basic human rights are not available, a human being has a right to find those things.”
Ragbir, the executive director of NYC-based New Sanctuary Coalition, was detained on Thursday while reporting to a routine check-in with ICE agents. His detainment sparked an impromptu protest in Foley Square that led to the arrests of 18 people, including councilmen Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez.
Williams and Rodriguez, both of whom are facing several charges following their arrests last week, were expected to speak at the rally around 1 p.m. Rev. Kaji Douša, whose grandfather stood with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, was also expected to speak to the crowd.
Ragbir came to the United States in 1991 from Trinidad and obtained a green card in 1994, but in 2006, a judge ordered him to be deported because of a 2001 wire fraud conviction, according to a group of community members and advocates who have fought for him to stay in the country.
He has been granted multiple stays of removal, but on Thursday, ICE agents told his lawyer, Alina Das, that they have the “power to make a discretionary choice,” she said.
“We are asking them, what’s the change, why now? And they are not giving us an answer.”
Ragbir’s detention came one week after ICE detained another New Sanctuary leader, Jean Montrevil, prompting advocates to claim the organization is being systemically targeted.
“We have no choice but to see these two incidents as a direct insult to the New Sanctuary movement,” Donna Schaper, pastor of Judson Memorial Church, said last Thursday following Ragbir’s arrest.
Founded in 2007, the New Sanctuary Coalition acts as a network of interfaith congregations and organizations that stand with families and communities resisting detention and deportation.
With Nicole Brown