Each month, Narratively’s “People of Interest” series offers an up-close look at one New York community or subculture, from Protest People to Polyamorous People. This month’s Paperless People features a range of people caught up in America’s ongoing immigration crisis. Daniel Krieger recently visited The New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, one of the largest immigrant rights groups in the city, where he spoke with its director.
Ravi Ragbir; executive director of The New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC; Brooklyn
I grew up in Trinidad and came to the United States over 25 years ago. I studied financial management and computer science. Then I married a woman who is also Trinidadian. We had a child and settled down in New Jersey. I ended up working as an account executive for a bank that was a predatory lender. I was expected to find vulnerable people who would sign their property over to the bank as collateral in exchange for a loan; then when they couldn’t make their payments the bank would foreclose. I was the fall guy. I was charged with fraud, convicted, and as a result of this debacle I spent three years in federal prison.
When I got out, even though I had a green card, the conviction made me removable.
After serving my time and being released from prison, immigration picked me up. I spent two years in detention. Because of the conviction, my green card was taken away and I was ordered deported.
I’ve been fighting my deportation since I got out of detention in 2008. They can deport me any day. But there’s a process, and the NYU Law School’s Immigrant Rights Clinic felt I had a valid case. They’ve been fighting for me since then. When they looked at all the transcripts, they concluded that my immigration hearing was a farce because the judge didn’t allow me to defend myself at all. I’m one of their longest running cases. They have file cabinets full of my papers.
After I got out of detention, I eventually started helping other immigrants by working with the New Sanctuary Coalition. It is a multi-faith network made up of synagogues, temples, mosques – any houses of worship where the people believe no one should be deported, because immigration policies are steeped in racism and economic injustice. They hired me to do organizing. My role is to connect the different activists, coalitions, institutions, lawyers and immigrant advocates. I’m always giving talks around the city and beyond to organize people and explain how the system works. As someone facing deportation myself, I can bring together all the voices of those who have been unheard and unseen.
All of this began with a law that Clinton signed in 1996, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which created an unfair system of detention and deportation that harshly punished both documented and undocumented immigrants for even minor crimes and made many more people deportable. Bush didn’t go so far in implementing the law, even though after 9/11 some immigrants became the scapegoats. But starting in 2008, instead of helping the immigrant population, Obama did the opposite. We weren’t expecting him to do much, but we weren’t expecting him to do what he did, which is ramp up this machinery of destruction and fine-tune it so that he was able to deport many more people than Bush. That’s why they call him “The Deporter-in-Chief.” He has earned that title.
Trump took away the façade of civility that was there with Obama. But it was just civility, not compassion. The policies were already there, so the machinery was moving along. Everyone in the way of the policies will get pushed aside or destroyed. They are just seen as collateral damage.
What’s happening at the moment is terrifying. All of the people Trump has surrounded himself with, the members of his cabinet and his advisors, have the intent to separate the races. They will do that by any means possible, and now they have the power to. You may think you are not going to be affected because you are white, but you are because we are all intertwined. If something affects me, it will affect you. People are not staying silent because they are very well aware that our lives are connected and that if they take people away, they will feel that loss. That’s why they are standing up, so that loss won’t happen.
The last time I checked in with immigration court was one year ago. Thursday, March 9 is my next deportation check-in. They will either detain me and deport me to Trinidad or tell me to come back for a check-in another day. You just can’t predict what will happen. They could look at me and say, “Ravi, today’s the day you’re going to go.” I’ll be separated from my wife and daughter, who are both citizens. The probability of that happening is high.
I have shut down my emotions about this. That’s how I move through each day. But now that we’re getting closer to March 9, I want to get there fast. I just want to deal with it now.
Update: at his check-in on March 9th, Ravi Ragbir was not ordered deported. His next check-in will be in one month.