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Worker Advocates: Law Enforcement Is Targeting Immigrants’ Rights Leaders

January 13, 2018

By Joe Maniscalco

New York, NY – Thursday’s ugly scene outside the Javits Federal Building in which two

Activists say immigrant rights leaders are being targeted for deportation.

members of the New York City Council were among 18 roughed up  and hauled away by law enforcement while challenging the deportation of immigrants rights leader Ravi Ragbir, has sparked outrage — but does not come as a surprise to listeners of LaborPress’ Blue Collar Buzz.

During a July, 2016, episode of Blue Collar Buzz, labor attorney and LP columnist Larry Cary accurately forecasted the hugely disturbing clash we saw this week, as more New Yorkers became aware of the Trump administration’s galloping crusade against immigrant people of color.

“President Trump’s stated effort to deport 11 million undocumented workers now in the United States, risks violence in the streets,” Cary reiterated on Friday. “Many people and their supporters will not go gentle into that good night.”

Ragbir is executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, a prominent  immigrants rights advocacy group. Reverend Micah Bucey and Pastor Juan Carlos Ruiz, two of Ragbir’s colleagues from the Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square South, were among those arrested during Thursday’s vigil.

On Friday, the clergy members told LaborPress they believe officials from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] and the Department of Homeland Security [DHS] are presently targeting leaders of immigrant rights groups including the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City.

“Something is happening with ICE, with DHS, where they want to cut off the limbs of these immigrant-led organizations to get rid of the leaders,” Reverend Bucey said.

New Sanctuary had reason to believe that Ragbir, a Trinidadian emigre, might end up being detained this week after presenting himself for a scheduled ICE check-in. Just one week prior,  New Sanctuary Coalition co-founder Jean Montrevil found himself placed in federal detention, as well.

The New Sanctuary Coalition has been consistently advocating for immigrant workers facing detention and deportation since the Trump administration assumed power and quickly embarked on its deportation campaign.

“What was happening outside the Federal Building was a peaceful demonstration,” Reverend Bucey said. “It was something we’d done countless times. And somehow, it escalated very quickly in a way that I think was surprising to everybody.”

Thursday’s arrests were sparked when authorities attempted to transport Ragbir and his wife away from the Federal Building inside an ambulance. But despite what’s been reported, both Reverend Bucey and Pastor Ruiz insist protesters were not attempting to get in the way of medical personnel supposedly administering aid to Ragbir, who had reportedly fainted in custody.

“We had just heard that Ravi had been detained,” Reverend Bucey said. “Everyone was just kind of wanting to go wherever that ambulance went.”

According to Pastor Ruiz, law enforcement officers immediately turned violent.

“We did not provoke [police] or throw any punches,” Pastor Ruiz said. “They just came at us. We did position [ourselves] before the ambulance, [but] it was in a very non-violent manner. They were really pushing, shoving, tackling us to the ground. Choking us. There was clearly excessive force.”

Earlier this week, some of the most outspoken leaders in organized labor publicly railed against the Trump administration’s decree to end Temporary Protected Status for some 200,000 Salvadorans living and working in the United States.

And in August, Teamsters Joint Council 16 rallied outside federal immigration authorities’ offices in Manhattan to oppose the deportation of 26-year Teamsters Local 813 member Eber Garcia-Vasquez. The private sanitation hauler and father of four had initially come to the United States decades ago, in an attempt to escape deadly government violence sweeping 1980s Guatemala.

ICE agents scooped up the Local 813 Teamster despite his Green Card eligibility and marriage to a U.S. citizen. Teamsters Joint Council President George Miranda defended his fellow Teamster saying Garcia-Vasquez had done “absolutely nothing wrong.”

“Our union stands with immigrant New Yorkers and against the hostile actions of the Trump administration,” the Teamsters Joint Council 16 leader said.

On Thursday, Donald Trump further paraded his blatant racism before the world when he was quoted openly calling nations in Africa “shithole countries.” The White House’s most recent  occupant — currently facing sexual harassment charges from 19 different women — then went on to pine away for more immigration from overwhelmingly white… Norway.

At the time of this writing, it remains unclear exactly where authorities might be holding the New Sanctuary Coalition’s executive director. Pastor Ruiz briefly spoke to Ragbir for about five minutes via telephone on Friday morning. At that point, authorities were reportedly holding Ragbir in Florida. During the brief exchange, Pastor Ruiz said that Ragbir had requested he be returned to New York City. His supporters, however, say they have not been able to reach him since.

Said, Pastor Ruiz, “[Immigration police] sever people from their communities; they take away their resources. [Ragbir] is basically getting the same treatment that thousands of people are receiving. This is one of their tactics to instill terror.”

Four months ago, on the September 9, 2017 edition of LaborPress’ Blue Collar Buzz, New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City members Sara Gozalo and Janice Hoseine recounted the increasingly oppressive and fearful atmosphere permeating ICE’s authoritarian facilities.

The New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City accompaniment program routinely pairs volunteers with immigrants snatched up by ICE agents. The volunteers offer moral support and act as witnesses to their quickie deportations proceedings.

“The moment you walk into that room you don’t see a single white person,” Gozalo said. “Everyone is a person of color. Everyone is so scared. You’re sitting there not knowing if you’re going to come out of that room. You could literarily be put into detention that same day. It is up to your officer. Whatever decision they make.”

Hoseine, whose own husband was held in ICE detention for more than a year, said that immigrants and their families are being “traumatized for life.”

[My husband] went in and didn’t come back out again,” Hoseine said. “He had two paid attorneys who couldn’t get him home.”

Both Gozalo and Hoseine reported that hardworking immigrant workers — many performing jobs in healthcare, transportation, waste disposal and other vital industries —are now living in a perpetual state of fear, leaving many afraid to go to work.

“They’re scared that their boss is going to take advantage of them,” Gozalo said. “And what are they going to do? Some don’t have status. The rhetoric coming out of the administration is giving power to take advantage of the most vulnerable people in our country.”

Reverend Bucey ultimately spent about five hours in police custody this week, and was among the first group of Ragbir’s 18 supporters to be released. But he also said that his actual arrest was far different than the pummeling by police that Pastor Ruiz experienced.

A day after being arrested and released, Pastor Ruiz  reported feeling like a beat up “football.” Reverend Bucey said he was handcuffed on the street after questioning police why they were busting his colleague.

“They were roughing Juan Carlos up,” Reverend Bucey said. “They treated me differently. I felt I was being treated like a white guy.”

After this week’s treatment at the hands of police, Pastor Ruiz said New York City’s status as a so-called “sanctuary city” for immigrants must be challenged.

“If they are calling this a ‘sanctuary place,’ how can they justify the NYPD doing the dirty work for ICE?”

January 13, 2018

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