Long-time permanent resident, community activist, father, and husband, Ravi Ragbir, faces permanent exile from his life in the U.S. Ravi’s immigration story began when he came to the U.S. from Trinidad in February 1991 on a visitor’s visa. In 1994, he became a lawful permanent resident (green card holder). His U.S. citizen daughter, Deborah, was born in 1995. A 15-year green card holder, Ravi was detained and ordered deported in 2006 by an immigration judge—without a hearing—based on a conviction for fraud, which he is currently seeking to vacate, based on factual and legal errors in his trial.
Through his own struggle to remain in the U.S., Ravi became active in supporting other immigrants who were facing similar challenges. Today, Ravi is a nationally recognized leader in the immigrant rights movement. Through his work, Ravi met, fell in love with, and eventually married Amy Gottlieb, a U.S. Citizen and fellow immigrant rights activist. Despite being eligible to readjust his status to permanent resident based on his marriage, the Board of Immigration Appeals denied Ravi’s request for an opportunity to be heard. Ravi is currently appealing this decision so that he can remain with his wife and daughter in the U.S., the place he has called home for over twenty years.
A Double Punishment
Ravi experienced the worst of the deportation system. Because of his criminal conviction, an immigration judge ordered Ravi deported without granting him a hearing on the issue, denying Ravi the opportunity to present evidence of his character and strong community ties. He was subject to mandatory, indefinite detention for years in New Jersey and Alabama, far from his community and his young daughter. Ravi’s case underscores one of the fundamental flaws of the current immigration system and a key reason we need to reform our deportation laws: the inability of judges to exercise discretion in a case based on the facts presented. Before changes to the law in 1996, judges had the discretion to weigh all of the relevant facts in a case to determine whether to deport an immigrant. Furthermore, immigrants like Ravi are often detained, without bond, in immigration jails across the country for prolonged and sometimes indefinite periods of time. For many people with criminal convictions, no matter how long ago or how minor, the deportation system does not recognize rehabilitation.
Ravi’s detention left his entire family feeling helpless and hopeless. Ravi’s daughter, Deborah, suffered the most through Ravi’s detention. She was deprived of her dad through her formative teenage years, and her family was torn apart. Since his release, Ravi thankfully has once again become a constant presence in Deborah’s life. But with his ongoing deportation case, she does not feel secure, knowing that her father can be deported if he loses his appeal. As she says, “[S]omewhere lurking in my mind, a voice tells me, ‘Well, don’t be happy—I mean your dad could be leaving tomorrow so get ready to say goodbye.’” Research indicates that one of the greatest factors for future success in a young woman’s life is a supportive and loving relationship with her father. Ravi wants to ensure Deborah’s success, and Deborah needs him to do so. The only way to make this happen is to allow Ravi to continue to be present in her life.
Rebuilding his Life and Fighting for Justice
Upon his release from indefinite immigration detention, Ravi continued to challenge the immigration judge’s order. He took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. When the Court refused to hear his case, Ravi’s lawyers requested that ICE exercise prosecutorial discretion under a policy that allows certain immigrants with strong community ties to remain in the U.S. ICE granted Ravi’s request for prosecutorial discretion in the form of a one-year stay of removal, and has since given him the chance to renew his stay.
Ravi has become a vigilant and dedicated community educator, spokesperson, and advocate for immigrants. When Ravi was released from immigration custody, he immediately volunteered with Families for Freedom, a network of immigrants facing and fighting deportation. He went on to serve as Chair of the Board of Directors for the organization. He has trained other advocates, allies, community organizers, and elected officials about immigration issues and how to reform the deportation system. Ravi has met with members of Congress and Administration officials, and has testified in front of the New York City Council to discuss detention and deportation policy. In 2010, Ravi also became a full-time organizer for the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, one of the largest coalitions in the city focused on immigrant rights, with over 20 faith-based and supporting organizations, representing over 3,000 New Yorkers. Ravi is also part of the larger Trinidadian and Indian diaspora, and he volunteers his time to visit places of worship throughout the country, speaking at services about the impact of immigration policies on the community. For both his family and the communities that he works tirelessly for, Ravi’s deportation would be a tremendous loss and would create a void that can never be filled.
Ravi and his wife, Amy, another community leader who heads the American Friends Services Committee’s Immigration Program in Newark, live in Brooklyn and spend the majority of their time in the New York/New Jersey area, where their family—including Ravi’s daughter Deborah—also lives. Amy considers Ravi her “closest friend and confidant” and describes their relationship as “a deep connection” in which they “have come to rely on each other for support, friendship, for advice, and companionship.” Deportation would destroy the couple’s dream of building a family together. “We have created a life together,” Amy explains, “and the idea of living that life without my husband is devastating.”
There is overwhelming public support for Ravi to remain in the U.S. with his family and the community that so desperately needs him. Ravi’s case has received broad support from organized groups, community leaders, elected officials, and the general public. As faith-based community leaders like Reverend Dr. Donna Schaper of Judson Memorial Church note, “Our City and our nation would be much worse off if Ravi were to be deported. He has demonstrated the kind of character that we need more of. There is no doubt that he should be allowed to stay here with his family and community.”