Illegal immigrants snared by deportation officers have “the freedom to say goodbye” to their families, a federal judge in New York ruled Monday, ordering the government to release a prominent activist to his family.
Judge Katherine B. Forrest, whom President Barack Obama appointed to the bench, said the government was following the law when it picked up Ravidath Lawrence Ragbir, the illegal immigrant. But she said “larger, more fundamental” rights were at stake.
“In sum, the court finds that when this country allowed petitioner to become a part of our community fabric, allowed him to build a life with and among us and to enjoy the liberties and freedom that come with that, it committed itself to allowance of an orderly departure when the time came,” she wrote. “By denying petitioner these rights, the government has acted wrongly.”
She becomes the latest federal district judge to delve deeply into immigration — an area Congress has said belongs to the separate immigration court system and to appellate judges, not district court judges.
Other cases are raging over deportations of Iraqis and Indonesians. Federal judges have taken unprecedented steps to stop deportations and rule on individual cases.
Judge Forrest said her ruling doesn’t mean Mr. Ragbir is safe from deportation.
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An immigration court has ordered him removed, and that ruling stands.
Immigrant rights groups said they were still hoping to fight that matter, though they praised Judge Forrest’s ruling.
“Ravi and other immigrant rights leaders have been viciously targeted by ICE for speaking out against the injustices of our immigration system. This is a naked attempt to intimidate us into silence, but we will only get louder,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
Mr. Ragbir was a legal immigrant who earned status in 1994 but who was convicted of loan fraud. After completing his sentence, he was turned over to deportation officers for removal.
He was in Homeland Security’s custody for nearly two years and was released in 2008 on what is known as an order of supervision, meaning he was still in loose federal custody.
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He fought for legal status in the years since and was checking in regularly with deportation officials as required by his supervision order. He was told he could be deported at any time once travel documents were obtained but was assured the deportation would be “orderly.”
In the meantime, he has become an immigrant rights activist with a work permit issued by Homeland Security.
The department ended its yearslong delay this month and detained Mr. Ragbir, saying it was going to enforce his deportation.
He had a sense that the encounter would lead to deportation and told New York Magazine that after another illegal immigrant activist was deported, he figured, “I’m next.”
He was surrounded by his wife and legal team as he went to meet with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Judge Forrest did not say in her ruling what more of a goodbye she had in mind nor how much more notice Mr. Ragbir should have been given.
She did say immigration law has become such a mess, with so many competing agendas, that it’s “a corn maze” to be navigated.
Judge Forrest said the government had correctly read the maze. But she ruled the outcome unconstitutional anyway, suggesting the Trump administration was bordering on the kinds of abusive regimes that make political opponents disappear.
“It ought not to be — and it has never before been — that those who 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,” the judge wrote.
“We are not that country; and woe be the day that we become that country under a fiction that laws allow it.”