Activist Sues ICE For Its Unconstitutional Targeting Of Immigrants' First Amendment-Protected Activities


ICE has been instructed to make the nation safer by deporting the "worst of the worst." The nation will be made secure again, said the DHS, pointing to its report declaring three-quarters of those convicted for terrorism offenses were "foreign-born." Of course, to reach this ratio, the DHS had to count people the US government had extradited to the US to face trial for terrorism attacks committed in foreign countries, but whatever. The point is: foreigners are dangerous and ICE is going to remove them. An ongoing "challenge" for ICE has been finding enough dangerous immigrants to deport, so it's had to change its strategy a bit.

So, if we're trying to root out would-be terrorists and MS-13 gang members and undocumented immigrants with long domestic criminal rap sheets, why is ICE targeting people for their First Amendment activities? That's what one rights activist wants to know, and he's taking ICE to court to force it to explain itself. Kevin Gosztola of ShadowProof has more details.

Immigrant rights activist Ravi Ragbir, who recently had his deportation stayed by a federal court, the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, Casa de Maryland, Detention Watch Network, the New York Immigration Coalition and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild are all plaintiffs pursuing the First Amendment lawsuit.

“Federal immigration authorities have specifically targeted prominent and outspoken immigrant rights activists across the country on the basis of their speech and political advocacy on behalf of immigrants’ rights and social justice,” the lawsuit declares [PDF]. “These activists have been surveilled, intimidated, harassed, and detained, their homes have been raided, many have been plucked off the street in broad daylight, and some have even been deported.”

“The ‘broad discretion exercised by immigration officials,’ has been abused in a cynical effort to punish those who disagree with [President Donald Trump’s] administration. To sweep away all opposition. The government’s targeting of activists on the basis of their core political speech is unfair, discriminatory, and un-American. And it violates the First Amendment.”

Ragbir isn't dangerous. Nor should he be anyone's idea of someone ICE should expend resources deporting. Ragbir has lived in the US for 25 years, has advocated for people like him, and has generally been all the things we want from US citizens. The only problem is that he isn't one. He's faced a "final order of removal" since 2007, but that has been extended time and time again because he's someone who's a credit to this country, even if he doesn't have the paperwork in to make it permanent.

Despite this, ICE arrested him and sent him from New York to a Miami detention facility. He was not given any of the courtesies one expects would be given to someone who's lived peacefully and productively in the United States for a quarter-century. Instead, he was treated like the "worst of the worst," and not even given a chance to get his personal affairs in order or say goodbye to the family he would be leaving behind.

This resulted in a scathing court order from a federal judge in New York. The full order [PDF] is worth reading but here are a few of the highlights. It opens with this devastating paragraph and the heat never lets up.

There is, and ought to be in this great country, the freedom to say goodbye. That is, the freedom to hug one's spouse and children, the freedom to organize the myriad of human affairs that collect over time. 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. We have a law higher than any that may be so interpreted -- and that is our Constitution. The wisdom of our Founders is evident in the document that demands and requires more; before the deprivation of liberty, there is due process; and an aversion to acts that are unnecessarily cruel.


In sum, the Court finds that when this country allowed petitioner to become part of our community fabric, allowed him to build a life with and among us and to enjoy the liberties and freedoms that come with that, it committed itself to allowance of an orderly departure when the time came, and it committed itself to avoidance of unnecessary cruelty when the time came. By denying petitioner these rights, the Government has acted wrongly.

While the court agrees ICE has the statutory authority to enforce deportation actions, it does not have the authority to pursue them in this manner. Its treatment of Ragbir was unconstitutional, given Ragbir's extended stay in the US without incident and frequent timely renewals of his work permit and permission to stay. The tactics used by ICE were cruel and capricious. And, as argued by Ragbir in his lawsuit, likely the result of ICE's disagreement with his First Amendment activities. All of this is unconstitutional, even if technically legal under ICE's statutory guidance.

Here, instead, the process we have employed has also been unnecessarily cruel. And those who are not subjected to such measures must be shocked by it, and find it unusual. That is, that a man we have allowed to live among us for years, to build a family and participate in the life of the community, was detained, handcuffed, forcibly placed on an airplane, and today finds himself in a prison cell. All of this without any showing, or belief by ICE that there is any need to show, that he would not have left on his own if simply told to do so; there has been no showing or even intimation that he would have fled or hidden to avoid leaving as directed. And certainly there has been no showing that he has not conducted himself lawfully for years. Taking such a man, and there are many such men and women like him, and subjecting him to what is rightfully understood as no different or better than penal detention, is certainly cruel. We as a country need and must not act so. The Constitution commands better.

Ragbir isn't suing ICE simply because of its targeting of him. His lawsuit points out he's not the only activist ICE has taken action against, using similar unconstitutional tactics.

ICE agents arrested Jean Montrevil, a Haitian national immigrant rights activist, co-founder of the New Sanctuary Coalition, and green card holder, on January 3. It was mere days before Ragbir’s check-in, which led to his detention. Montrevil was deported to Haiti on January 9. Authorities forced him to leave his four children—all U.S. citizens.

According to the lawsuit, Montrevil’s lawyer asked Scott Mechkowski, the ICE Deputy Field Office Director for New York, why ICE agents were deployed to “apprehend” Montrevil at his home “months before his scheduled check-in.”

“We [ICE] war-gamed this over and over,” Mechkowski apparently replied. “[T]his was the best time and place to take him.”

Several more are listed in the lawsuit (and covered by Shadowproof). In each case, immigrants appear to have been targeted for their activism or engagement with entities providing shelter and care for other immigrants. None of those listed faced deportation for illegal acts and many of those had lived in the States for years, raising families and becoming positive additions to their communities.

ICE has been given free rein by the current administration which never misses an opportunity to portray undocumented immigrants as inherently dangerous. If this lawsuit goes far enough, it should lay bare ICE's forays into unconstitutional behavior.

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  1. icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 14 Feb 2018 @ 7:29am

    The nation will be made secure again, said the DHS, pointing to its report declaring three-quarters of those convicted for terrorism offenses were "foreign-born." Of course, to reach this ratio, the DHS had to count people the US government had extradited to the US to face trial for terrorism attacks committed in foreign countries, but whatever.

    In the same article:

    The report considers only those incidents motivated by international terrorist groups — so instances of domestic terrorism are not counted.

    Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

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