Trinidadian immigrant rights leader, Ravi Ragbir, was detained at a routine check-in meeting with ICE officials in Manhattan on Thursday, flipping a peaceful vigil outside the Javits Federal Building into a massive protest marked by clashes with police.
Eighteen people were arrested, including two City Council members.
Supporters first gathered before Ragbir’s check-in to march around the building. But as news spread he had been detained for deportation, urgent calls for support lit up social media and the crowd swelled.
City leaders, including Councilman Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), later announced Ragbir had passed out in detention. The assembled crowd of at least 300 people exploded with chants of “Ravi! Ravi!”
Protesters gathered near the building’s exit on Duane Street and expressed concern that Ragbir, who is from Trinidad, was being transported to another Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in a departing ambulance.
Ragbir’s supporters filled the street around 11:15 a.m. and tried to block the ambulance as police pushed them back with their hands and batons.
Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn) was jostled by cops multiple times as he put both arms in the air and stood in front of the slowly moving ambulance.
Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan) repeatedly sat down in the street in front of the emergency vehicle.
After 10 minutes of chaos, the ambulance carrying Ragbir reversed back down the block as police made several arrests. A police source later said the ambulance was heading to New York-Presbyterian Hospital Lower Manhattan, not to another ICE facility as protesters feared. It was rerouted to Bellevue Hospital, the source said.
Video of Williams’ arrest shot by BuzzFeed showed an NYPD officer push the councilman facedown onto the hood of a parked car. Williams was later placed in flex cuffs.
“Freedom. Resist,” Williams told the New York Daily News. “Resist.”
Williams, who was given a desk appearance ticket for blocking the ambulance, emerged from the 7th Precinct stationhouse around 7:30 p.m., wearing a ripped gray blazer.
“The man in the White House claims they’re trying to deport rapists and murderers and things like that,” he said. “Ravi is nothing (like that). He’s an upstanding resident. He wouldn’t hurt a fly…. No one’s safety is better off now because Ravi is gone.”
Williams has been involved in dozens of protests.
“This was the toughest one I’ve experienced,” he said. “I was thrown around. People were thrown around like rag dolls.”
Rodriguez was also taken into custody. His Twitter account posted a photo of his arrest and accused the NYPD of placing him in a chokehold.
“This is NOT how you treat people who are protesting for Human Rights,” the post read. “This is NOT what democracy looks like. We can’t call ourselves progressives and pro-immigrants when the @NYPDnews is doing choke hold to us. Injusticia!”
Ragbir is executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City. He was granted permanent residency in 1994, but it was revoked after he was convicted of wire fraud in 2000. He served a 30-month prison term but later asked the court to revise the original judgment, citing faulty jury instructions and poor legal representation.
Ragbir says he was a low-level employee at a now-defunct mortgage broker when he processed applications by a real estate broker that were later proven fraudulent.
His lawyers argued his jury was unfairly allowed to convict him for his “willful blindness” to the fraud. Ragbir said he never received extra money tied to the applications, only his regular salary.
He also said he was advised to waive his right to a hearing on the loss amount, and it ended up being set at more than $350,000, making it an aggravated felony.
Ragbir claims the actual loss was less than $10,000, an amount that wouldn’t affect his residency status.
In a statement late Thursday, an ICE spokeswoman said Ragbir had “exhausted” his petitions and appeals and would be deported.