Ragbir was detained on January 11 after a routine check-in with US Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a move that sparked protests throughout the city from supporters who called Ragbir a pillar of the community.
While Ragbir was released from ICE detention at the end of January, ICE then ordered him to report for deportation on Saturday, February 10.
Ragbir, the executive director of the New York-based New Sanctuary Coalition, and several organisations supporting him filed a lawsuit against ICE, the US Department of Homeland Security and the US Department of Justice, alleging that he was targeted because of his activism.
He was granted a stay of deportation to allow for the briefing and consideration of the suit.
“Like so many people who are living in this country under the threat of deportation, I know how important it is to raise our voices against the injustices in the system,” Ragbir said in a statement.
“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.”
Lawyers defending Ragbir said the US government has agreed to stay Ragbir's deportation temporarily.
“Justice was restored today, at least temporarily, as Mr. Ragbir is now able to remain in the United States and free until the Court reviews his constitutional claims,” said attorney Stanton Jones.
“If the First Amendment means anything, it means the government can't silence immigrant-rights activists like Mr. Ragbir by deporting them. We look forward to presenting these grave constitutional claims to the Court,” he added.
The lawsuit seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction, restraining the government from taking further action to force a deportation order against Ragbir. It also seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction “restraining the government from selectively enforcing immigration laws against individuals based on protected political speech.”
“ICE's targeting of immigrant-rights activists based on their protected speech and political advocacy plainly violates the First Amendment,” said attorney Sally Pei, adding “we intend to put an end to this vindictive practice.”
But ICE has denied targeting immigrants based on their advocacy work or comments, saying “any suggestion to the contrary is irresponsible, speculative and inaccurate.
“ICE focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” said the immigration agency in a statement.
“That being said, as ICE leadership has made clear, ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and — if found removable by final order — removal from the United States.”
Last month, a judge ordered Ragbir released, ruling that his detention was “unnecessarily cruel.”
Ragbir and the other plaintiffs on the lawsuit will have until Monday to file additional paperwork, according to the court order. The defendants will have until March 1 to file a response and the plaintiffs must file a reply by March 14.
Ragbir was issued a green card in 1994 after migrating in 1991, but he was convicted of wire fraud in 2001 and served 30 months in federal prison.
He was then detained in 2006 after a judge ordered deportation because of his conviction. But he was released in 2008 when ICE determined he wasn't a danger to the community, according to his defense team.
A challenge to that conviction also is pending in federal court, his lawyer said.
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