By: Fallon Cochlin
After a four-year court battle with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), activist Ravi Ragbir has entered into a settlement that grants him a three-year reprieve from deportation. In January 2018, The Intercept published a report that raised concerns about targeted government surveillance and enforcement of immigration rights activists. Ragbir was reportedly one of two leading activists with the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City who were detained by ICE and prepared for deportation in a single week. While the other activist, Jean Montrevil, was deported to Haiti, Ragbir sued ICE for targeting immigration activists based on their protected speech, and his deportation was stayed pending the results of the proceedings.
According to The Intercept, Ragbir legally immigrated to the U.S. from Trinidad and was later arrested and convicted of wire fraud in connection with a mortgage fraud investigation. A non-violent criminal conviction such as this can lead to deportation, even for immigrants who immigrated legally. After being released, Ragbir had an order for removal and was required to attend check-ins with ICE, but this did not stop his immigration activism. He became “one of the most visible advocates for undocumented immigrants in New York City” over the years following his release from prison. It was this activism, Ragbir claims, that made him and Montrevil a target of enforcement.
Ragbir’s lawsuit revolves around the question of whether the First Amendment protects undocumented immigrants from being targeted as a result of otherwise protected speech. Ragbir’s attorneys argued that ICE had been broadly targeting immigration activists for deportation and detainment, clearly violating their First Amendment rights. The Justice Department attempted to argue that immigration law precludes courts from protecting the speech of those who are facing deportation. A decision one way or the other would have far-reaching implications for undocumented Americans.
In April 2019, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Ragbir, stating that “to allow this retaliatory conduct to proceed would broadly chill protected speech.”. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, and the case was vacated and removed to the district court for proceedings consistent with the ruling. The Supreme Court ruled separately in June 2020 that those who have been deported have little legal recourse to challenge the deportation, further eroding the constitutional protections of undocumented immigrants.
With these unfavorable developments at the Supreme Court, Ragbir decided to settle his case rather than start back at square one. As a part of the settlement, Ragbir is granted a three-year reprieve from deportation proceedings, but ICE and the U.S. government do not admit any wrongdoing. While the settlement is not the ideal outcome for Ragbir and activists across the country, his team views it as a success: Ragbir may continue his activism and ICE is aware that targeted enforcement will not be taken lying down. Unfortunately, the extent to which the Constitution protects undocumented immigrants remains uncertain.
Fallon Cochlin (she/her) is currently a 2L at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Her areas of interest include economic inequality, racial justice, and the intersection of spirituality and science. In her personal life, Fallon is passionate about poetry, nature, and performing arts.