U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest found a right to “say goodbye” in the U.S. Constitution Monday, in an opinion which, if upheld, will potentially make enforcing orders of deportation against illegal aliens significantly more difficult.
“There is, and ought to be in this great country, the freedom to say goodbye,” Forrest begins her seven-page opinion blocking the deportation of convicted fraudster and “immigrants’ rights activist” Ravidath Lawrence Ragbir.
Ragbir came to the United States legally in the 1990s, but was later convicted of bank fraud and made subject to deportation after his release. After running the full course of immigration proceedings, Ragbir was given a “final order of deportation,” but had his removal continually delayed for nine years. In the meantime, he served, at various times, as executive director of the George Soros-funded “New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City,” as a steering committee member of the “New York State Interfaith Network for Immigration Reform,” and as chairman of the board of “Families for Freedom.” He also married Amy Gottlieb, a fellow pro-illegal immigrant activist who will be attending Tuesday’s State of the Union address as a guest of Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY).
On January 11, 2018, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) refused to issue a fifth stay of removal and took Ragbir into custody, having obtained travel documents for him to return to his native Trinidad and Tobago.
According to Judge Forrest, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2011, this was a violation of Ragbir’s constitutional right, apparently contained in the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process, to “the freedom to hug one’s spouse and children, the freedom to organize the myriad of human affairs that collect over time.” She argues that because the United States allowed him to stay so long as an illegal alien, he now cannot be deported without fair warning and time to prepare:
In sum, the Court finds that when this country allowed petitioner to become a part of our community fabric, allowed him to build a life with and among us and to enjoy the liberties and freedom that come with that, it committed itself to allowance of an orderly departure when the time came, and it committed itself to avoidance of unnecessary cruelty when the time came. By denying petitioner these rights, the Government has acted wrongly.
Forrest’s opinion refers to “who we are as a country” and argues:
It ought not to be — and it has never before been — that those who have lived without incident in this country for years are subjected to treatment we associate with regimes we revile as unjust, regimes where those who have long lived in a country may be taken without notice from streets, home, and work. And sent away. We are not that country; and woe be the day that we become that country under a fiction that laws allow it.
A career litigator and Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division under Obama, Forrest first came to national attention as a judge in 2015 when she sentenced Ross Ulbricht, the founder of the illegal online market “Silk Road,” to life in prison without the possibility of parole, citing, among other things, his “privilege.” The courtroom reportedly gasped as Forrest pronounced the punishment for the man who went by the pseudonym “Dread Pirate Roberts” as he covertly operated the world’s largest online drug market from his laptop.
Forrest repeatedly referenced Ulbricht’s journal, in which he espoused a radical libertarian political philosophy and his belief that users buying illegal drugs online would be safer for society than street drug sales, as justification for her unexpectedly harsh sentence. “It’s a privileged argument and it’s an argument made by one of the privileged,” she said as she rejected first-time convict Ulbricht’s pleas for leniency and gave him the maximum possible penalty.
“There must be no doubt that lawlessness will not be tolerated. There must be no doubt that no one is above the law – no matter one’s education or privileges. All stand equal before the law,” Forrest went on at the time.
Forrest took a markedly different tack regarding the rule of law Monday as she found ICE’s “abrupt detention” for deportation of the illegal alien criminal Ragbir – after a mere nine years of litigation and delay – to be “unnecessarily cruel.” She calls American immigration laws a “corn maze,” but writes:
The Court agrees that the statutory scheme governing petitioner’s status is properly read to allow for his removal without further right of contest. He is subject to a final order of deportation, he has been under an order of supervision that the statute provides a right to revoke if and when there was a change in circumstances, and receipt of a “travel document” that allowed for immediate deportation was such a change of circumstance. Once the travel document had been obtained, the statutory scheme provides for the revocation of supervision and detention, as his deportation had become reasonably foreseeable. All of this is correct.
Yes, petitioner knew he was under a final order of deportation; yes, he had had numerous instances in which he had been heard by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) and courts, arguing that he should be allowed to stay. And yes, that was all at an end.
The court held that the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause requires ICE provide a certain date and time to say goodbye before taking him into custody. To do otherwise would violate the “rights that define who we are as a country.”
The case is Ragbir v. Sessions, No. 18-cv-236 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.