A federal judge temporarily stayed the deportation order for New Sanctuary Coalition executive director Ravi Ragbir on Friday, only one day before he was scheduled to be deported. He’s one of a growing number of immigrants whose scheduled deportations—both individual or en masse—have been halted by federal judges in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Michigan and Florida. For more on the legal battle against Trump’s mass deportation efforts, we speak with Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project; Seth Kaper-Dale, pastor of the Reformed Church of Highland Park; and Ravi Ragbir, executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, a federal judge has stayed the deportation of immigrant rights leader Ravi Ragbir, after he filed a free-speech lawsuit charging the Trump administration of targeting immigrant rights activists with surveillance and deportation. I want to list some of the other outspoken immigrants who have been targeted by ICE, as laid out by Nick Pinto in The Intercept.
“Daniela Vargas, a 22-year-old activist who came to the United States from Argentina when she was 7, was detained by ICE agents last March as she was leaving a news conference in Jackson, Mississippi, where she had spoken on the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that stayed her own deportation for lacking immigration status.
“The same month, in Vermont, ICE arrested José Enrique Balcazar Sanchez and Zully Victoria Palacios Rodriguez, two leading organizers with Migrant Justice, a workers rights organization. Palacios Rodriguez’s lawyer, Matt Cameron, told the Boston Globe that the offense she was arrested for—overstaying her visa by some eight months—wouldn’t usually attract ICE’s attention, and that it’s especially unusual for such a person to be held without bail, as his client was.
“A couple months later, two more Migrant Justice activists, Yesenia Hernández-Ramos and Esau Peche-Ventura, were arrested by a Border Patrol agent and transferred to ICE custody after taking part in a march outside a Ben and Jerry’s plant to demand better working conditions for farmworkers supplying milk to the ice cream giant.
“In December, ICE began deportation proceedings against Maru Mora-Villalpando, a 47-year-old activist who came from Mexico more than 25 years ago and is an outspoken critic of ICE’s deportation and detention practices in the Seattle area.
“Also in December, Baltazar Aburto Gutierrez, a 35-year-old clam harvester in Washington state, was detained after he was quoted in local papers talking about his girlfriend’s recent deportation. ’You’re the one from the newspaper,’ Aburto Gutierrez says the ICE agent who detained him said. ‘My supervisor asked me to come find you because of what appeared in the newspaper.’
“In January, ICE agents in Colorado arrested Eliseo Jurado after his wife Ingrid Encalada Latorre publicly took sanctuary in a Boulder church to avoid deportation to Peru.”
That is all from Nick Pinto’s article in The Intercept titled ”ICE Is Targeting Political Opponents for Deportation, Ravi Ragbir and Rights Groups Say in Court.”
Ravi, this amazing list of activists being rounded up, essentially, by ICE around the country, your reaction?
RAVI RAGBIR: Well, what we are seeing here is, you know, a state of fear that they’re trying to create by taking people away. Maru has always been a—I know Maru. We have been in many conferences together. And she has always been outspoken. And to send her a notice to appear, and also that she is in a removal proceeding, is a direction—shows the direction the agency is heading to. Look at the resources they allocated to deport me. You are seeing that this is an intensification against the immigrant community. You know, you heard a quote from the president: “Where is the due process?” Well, we should be asking: Where is the due process in what we are seeing?
AMY GOODMAN: He was talking—President Trump was talking about for sexual—for domestic violence abusers in his White House.
RAVI RAGBIR: Correct, with—and you have—you know, you have photographic proof of the abuse, but we have seen his support for those abusers, right? But we are not seeing the support for the families who are being destroyed.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Lee Gelernt of the ACLU, what about that issue of due process? What due process rights do people, who are in the country, according to ICE, illegally, have?
LEE GELERNT: Yeah, they absolutely have due process rights. And the reason is because the Constitution uses the word “persons” rather than “citizens.” And the Supreme Court has long ago held that immigrants have due process rights. And what we’re seeing around the country is the Trump administration rounding up people, large groups of people, and then trying to deport them abruptly without giving them their due process rights. And what’s even more troubling, perhaps, is that when we go to court, they’re saying the courts don’t have jurisdiction, authority, to enforce the due process rights of immigrants. So, the ACLU has been fighting cases in Detroit on behalf of Iraqis; Boston and New Jersey, on behalf of Indonesian Christians.
AMY GOODMAN: And what’s happened in these cases?
LEE GELERNT: In these cases, the judges have all blocked the deportation, which is heartening. And I’ve been doing this a long time, but I don’t think I can remember a time when the judges have been so pointed in questioning the government and saying, “Some of these individuals, many of these individuals, are likely to be tortured or killed, if sent back. Why are you rushing them out of the country without even giving them time to file claims?” The judges have been extremely critical of the government, but issuing rigorous legal opinions. The government’s appealed. We’ll see what happens. But, for now, it’s been heartening.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But in a lot of those cases, it’s been ethnic groups that were, in essence, targeted by ICE.
LEE GELERNT: Right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What about this issue of political activists, in essence—
LEE GELERNT: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —which is obviously not—a lot more difficult, possibly, first to amass the evidence and then to get rulings on?
LEE GELERNT: Right. So I think those cases are a subset of this larger problem. We, at the ACLU, are hearing about these cases, as Ravi pointed out and as you’ve pointed out, all over the country, where people who are speaking out are being targeted. And we’re concerned that it’s suppressing—suppressing political speech. That’s very troubling. And what we anticipate the government saying is: “Well, the courts don’t have jurisdiction to do anything about it.” So, I think we’re in for a long battle before the courts.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to read what the ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan told The New York Times about the recent decisions by federal judges in cases of immigrants who are fighting their deportation. He said, “I am increasingly troubled by orders from federal judges halting the deportation of certain groups of individuals, all of which appear to ignore the fact that each alien in question was lawfully ordered removed from the United States after full and fair proceedings, many of which lasted several years or longer, at great taxpayer expense. … Further, these orders hinder ICE’s efforts to address the clear public safety threat posed by many of these aliens—the majority of whom have criminal convictions. … Of course, entering the United States illegally is, itself, a crime,” said ICE’s Deputy Director Thomas Homan. Lee Gelernt?
LEE GELERNT: Yeah, that’s not responsive to what the federal judges are saying. The federal judges are recognizing that these individuals have final orders, but what they’re also pointing out is these final orders were decades ago. These individuals have lived peaceful lives for decades. But more importantly, if they’re sent back, they may be tortured. And so, the part of the law that he is ignoring is that Congress has set up a system to say you can go and reopen your case, if you believe you’re going to be tortured or persecuted if sent back. That’s the part of the law, that Congress enacted, that he’s ignoring.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, last week, a federal judge in Newark, New Jersey, temporarily blocked the removal of dozens of Indonesian Christians, including two fathers who were detained by ICE as they were taking their children to school. We’re joined by Seth Kaper-Dale, pastor of the Reformed Church of Highland Park in New Jersey. He was the Green Party candidate for governor of New Jersey in 2017. Welcome to Democracy Now!
PASTOR SETH KAPER–DALE: Thank you so much, Juan and Amy.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you tell us the latest developments with the folks that were taking refuge in your church?
PASTOR SETH KAPER–DALE: Yes. So, with those taking refuge in our church, I can say that after the ACLU lawsuit was filed a week ago Friday and the judge heard it immediately, we felt a great deal of relief. The lawsuit itself doesn’t say that ICE can’t take action against people here, but it says that ICE can’t remove people from the country or move them out of district. So, we believe that the people who are living in our sanctuary can go home. And they have gone home, and they have been safe since that time. We think it would be very foolish if ICE were to act against them, when a judge has clearly made it clear that this is an exploratory moment.
So, one of the things that concerns us is that the two people who were detained two weeks ago Thursday, the same day that one of my church members made it here into sanctuary, they are still detained. We were hoping that maybe they would be released during the time that things are pending. We have, you know, four U.S. citizen children who are desperate to see their dads. And so, we’re hopeful that ICE would release them during the time that this was holding. But as of now, they’re still detained.
AMY GOODMAN: The governor got involved, is that right? The Democratic governor, after he was sworn in, came to your church. I want to turn to one of the wives of the Indonesian men targeted by ICE, speaking with the New Jersey governor, Phil Murphy, during his visit to your church, the Highland Park Reformed Church. She’s not seen on camera, to protect her identity.
IMMIGRANT WIFE: Came in here 1998, when a time is—time Indonesia was raping, was killing, was torture.
GOV. PHIL MURPHY: Yeah.
IMMIGRANT WIFE: And I escaped and came in this country. Since I came in—I came into New Jersey—I working. I pay tax. I pay my own insurance. And right now I’m working for pay the insurance for my husband and my kids.
GOV. PHIL MURPHY: Yeah.
IMMIGRANT WIFE: I never even claim any penny from the government to give me stand up.
GOV. PHIL MURPHY: Yeah.
IMMIGRANT WIFE: Right now I’m talking with—we have talked, myself and my two friends—
GOV. PHIL MURPHY: Yeah.
IMMIGRANT WIFE: You know, we are here. We’re working hard. I didn’t asking for anything.
GOV. PHIL MURPHY: Yeah.
IMMIGRANT WIFE: Just leave us alone, you know.
GOV. PHIL MURPHY: Yeah.
IMMIGRANT WIFE: And let us raise our children until whatever dream they want. We don’t want to kill their dream, because I cannot bring them to my country, does not belong to them.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was the wife of one of the Indonesian men that was taken. Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale, the significance of the intervention of the stay of deportation now? Do you see this as part of a trend of federal judges saying no to the Trump administration? And what needs to happen now? Also, there are a group of Indonesians—and I believe Lee Gelernt can address this—in Boston.
LEE GELERNT: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’ll talk about that in a minute.
PASTOR SETH KAPER–DALE: Yeah, I do see it as a trend. And I would say that in the case of the Indonesians, my congregation was deeply involved in working with ICE many years ago in creating opportunities for Indonesians who are not a deportation priority to get stays, because ICE recognized the horrible torture and possible danger that awaited folks in Indonesia. So, we have worked in the past with ICE to do the things that now we’re counting on judges to do. And I think that that’s one of the things that’s happening. We had a moment where the administration understood prosecutorial discretion, especially around issues around torture and other things, and now we’re in a place where we’re counting on judges to do what at one point we could count on the administrative wing to do.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Lee Gelernt, what about this issue of the Indonesian Christians, especially since President Trump has, on several occasions, talked about the persecution of Christians around the world—
LEE GELERNT: Right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —and yet, right here in the United States, they’re not dealing with the legitimate requests of the Indonesian Christians not to be sent back to a place where they could be persecuted?
LEE GELERNT: Yeah, exactly. And so, we went to court in Boston on behalf of approximately 50 Indonesian Christians, and the judge blocked deportation. And the judge said, “Look, I am not deciding the legality of their deportation, ultimately. But what I am going to do is give them time to go before an immigration court to show that, as Indonesian Christians, they will be persecuted or tortured if sent back.” And that’s just basic due process. Now the Indonesian Christians of New Jersey are being threatened in the same way, so we went to court and blocked that. But it’s Christian Iraqis out of Detroit, in the whole country. It’s—
AMY GOODMAN: How many Iraqis in Detroit are you representing?
LEE GELERNT: There are 1,900, approximately, around the country, not just Detroit. We expanded it to the whole country. The judge has blocked nationwide. And all we’re asking for is basic due process. Let them go to immigration court to show they’re going to be tortured or killed. When the judge said to the administration, “Why not give them time? It’s clear that they may be in danger,” the administration said, “No, I’m not giving—we’re not giving them any time.” That’s when the judge stepped in, in the best traditions of our federal courts.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Ravi Ragbir, Homan, the deputy director of ICE, attacking the judiciary?
RAVI RAGBIR: Well, it’s not only Homan. If you hear deputy—sorry, the AG, Attorney General Sessions, he himself has said publicly that this country will be so much better if we don’t have a judiciary where it is right now. That shows the direction of where we’re heading to.
And I also wanted to point out two things. One is, my cases, the New Jersey case is different, and the First Amendment case is different, where they are saying that they don’t have—ICE is saying that that court doesn’t have jurisdiction for a case that is dealing with a criminal conviction and the First Amendment. It has nothing to do with the actual deportation order itself. And that is what is at stake here, where they are taking away the tools of the court to protect its own space, its own process. And they are fighting that. And, you know, you see the violence that is coming as a result.
AMY GOODMAN: This critical point—and McNulty, the federal judge in Newark, made this point repeatedly on Friday—this issue of what it means when you have someone before them and then another branch of government deports them.
LEE GELERNT: Well, absolutely. And so, I just want to be clear. That is happening in Ravi’s case, but it is happening in all the cases I’ve described. In every case, the government’s principal argument is the court lacks jurisdiction to do anything. And so that’s the common theme around the country: The courts don’t have authority to do anything. And that’s what the courts have rejected so far, and hopefully will continue to reject.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both, and all, for being with us, Ravi Ragbir, who now has a deportation date for March 15th, but a federal judge in New Jersey is going to decide whether to extend a stay before that date; Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale, speaking to us from New Jersey, whose church has given sanctuary to an Indonesian immigrant; and Lee Gelernt of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we remember a great human rights lawyer, humanitarian and activist from Pakistan. Stay with us.