People For the American Way Foundation

NY judge orders immigrant released and reminds us that courts matter

News and Analysis

As the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress are working to transform our nation into a dark, unfamiliar, and non-democratic society, we turn to the third branch of government—our federal courts—to protect our Constitution and our democratic norms.  New York federal judge Katherine Forrest issued a ruling on January 29 that is important not only in substance, but also as a reminder of the constitutional values of our nation and the role of the courts in protecting those values.

The case involves Ravidath Ragbir, a legal permanent resident who immigrated from Trinidad and who leads the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City. Judge Forrest ordered the administration to release him from detention. Her opinion in Ragbir v. Sessions explained what led up to the case:

After having spent nine years in this country without incident, reporting as required to immigration authorities and building a home, a family, and a community, on January 11, 2018, Ravidath Ragbir was suddenly taken into custody. He was informed that his time in this country was at an end; without further ado, without the freedom to say goodbye, he was taken away. This abrupt and by all accounts unnecessary detention, a step in the direction of deportation, was wrong.

Like so much in the Trump era, this is not normal. Fortunately, when Ragbir turned to the federal courts to protect his rights, the judge did not fail him—or us:

There is, and ought to be in this country, the freedom to say goodbye. That is, freedom to hug one’s spouse and children, the freedom to organize the myriad of human affairs that collect over time. 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 associated with regimes we revile as unjust, regimes where those who have long lived in a country may be taken away 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. We have a law higher than any that may be so interpreted-and that is our Constitution. The wisdom of our Founders is evident in the document that demands and requires more; before the deprivation of liberty, there is due process; and an aversion to acts that are unnecessarily cruel. These fundamental rights are at issue in this case.

Our liberty is at risk if we have federal judges who serve as a rubber stamp for Trump. Judge Forrest is no rubber stamp. She has served as a judge in the Southern District of New York since 2011. Her words and actions today are an inspiring reminder of the role courts play.

It cannot be stated too often: Courts Matter.