NEW YORK - Hundreds of people rallied on Saturday in support of an immigration activist from Trinidad and Tobago who's fighting deportation, accusing authorities of targeting him for speaking out.
Ravi Ragbir was facing removal from the U.S. on Saturday, but federal officials and Ragbir's lawyers agreed to a temporary stay as part of a lawsuit filed Friday, which claims he and other activists have been singled out.
New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, a coalition of 150 faith-based, pro-immigrant groups staged the rally at a federal office in lower Manhattan where Ragbir, 53, had been scheduled to check with immigration officials on Saturday before they decided he didn't need to.
Ragbir led demonstrators on a march and told them he believes the country's immigration policies are racist.
"Am I a national security problem?" Ragbir said. "Am I colluding with Russia? ... We know that there is a movement to remove people of color, to learn that there is an ethnic cleansing being created by this administration. And it's very hard words, but let's be real about what we are seeing."
Ragbir was detained last month during a check-in with ICE over a 2001 conviction for a mortgage fraud scheme. He was released last week by a federal judge who expressed "grave concerns" about his treatment.
The government said he should be deported because of the conviction involving a New Jersey mortgage company where Ragbir worked that was caught up in the fraud. He's fighting to vacate the conviction in federal court in New Jersey, contending he was just an employee doing his job, unaware of any fraudulent activity.
U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials have said repeatedly that Ragbir and the other activists were being deported because of their serious criminal records, not because of their politics.
At the rally, other speakers praised the decision to grant Ragbir a temporary stay and called on lawmakers to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protections for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
Debbie Mullins, 64, who attended the rally in support of Ragbir, said she was "pleasantly surprised" to learn he was allowed to stay in the country for now.
"Traditionally, America has been a country that welcomed people that were poor and oppressed" Mullins said. "You just have to read what's written on the Statue of Liberty."
Dozens of police officers surrounded the protest, while a small contingent of counter-protesters who stood at the rear of the gathering could be heard heckling during speeches.
One heckler, Karen Braun, held a sign that said "Thank you ICE."
"If you're not here legally, you should be deported," said the 50-year-old Braun.
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