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Immigration activist staves off deportation for now

NEW YORK — An immigration activist whose battle to avoid deportation has drawn support from Democratic politicians will get to stay in the U.S. for the time being after his lawyers filed a lawsuit accusing federal officials of wrongly targeting him in an attempt to silence dissent.

Ravi Ragbir, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, said in a lawsuit filed Friday in New York that immigration agents have purposely singled out immigrant advocates for deportation as a way to quiet opposition.

“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,” the lawsuit said.

The suit was filed a day before Ragbir’s latest deportation order was scheduled to take effect. In a stipulation, federal prosecutors and Ragbir’s lawyers agreed he won’t be deported until he has had a chance to argue his new suit, sometime after March 14. Ragbir still must turn up for a meeting with immigration agents on Saturday.

Ragbir leads the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, a coalition of 150 faith-based, pro-immigrant groups.

He initially was ordered deported after being convicted in a mortgage fraud scheme in 2001 but his removal from the U.S. had largely been on hold until Jan. 11, when he was detained during a routine check-in with immigration officials.

Ragbir’s detention spawned protests that blocked traffic. Two city council members were arrested during the rally.

He was released last week after a federal judge ruled he hadn’t been given enough time to say goodbye to his family. That judge, U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest, expressed “grave concern” over allegations he was targeted for deportation because of his political activities.

The week before his arrest, another leader of the New Sanctuary Coalition, Jean Montrevil, was arrested in the street and deported to Haiti. Montrevil had served an 11-year prison sentence for selling cocaine.

Immigration agents last month also detained the husband of an immigrant activist in Boulder, Colorado, who got media attention after seeking sanctuary from deportation in a church.

U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials have said repeatedly that Ragbir and the other activists were being deported because of their serious criminal records, not because of their politics.

Separately, Ragbir appeared in a court in Newark, New Jersey, on Friday to ask a judge to halt deportation while he launches another appeal of his old criminal conviction. Several previous appeals were unsuccessful.

The judge heard arguments in a courtroom packed with Ragbir’s supporters but didn’t immediately issue a ruling.

“This is a step in the right direction,” Ragbir said outside the courthouse. In a written statement, he said he felt obligated to raise his voice “against the injustices in the system.”

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


Associated Press Writer David Porter contributed to this report from Newark, New Jersey.

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