An attorney for a Haitian man picked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Waterville earlier this month said that he is encouraged by a federal judge's ruling in Manhattan this week. U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest said it was "unconstitutional and cruel" for authorities to detain Ravi Ragbir "without a moment's notice." Forrest then ordered Ragbir’s immediate release.
Ragbir, an immigrant rights activist from Trinidad and Tobago, has much in common with Lexius Saint Martin, originally from Haiti. Both men had years-old criminal convictions for non-violent crimes. Ragbir had been convicted of wire fraud in 2001. Saint Martin was convicted of drug trafficking in 2009. Neither had been in trouble since, but both were living under deportation orders. Both also married U.S. citizens, had children and went on to build successful lives for themselves before being picked up and detained by U.S. ICE.
"They're both people who were well-integrated into the community with family, with work life, just living and thriving in the community and then with no warning, just taken away by ICE," said Evan Fisher, an attorney for Lexius Saint Martin.
Saint Martin is being held in a New Hampshire jail. Fisher said he's preparing to file suit in federal court on his client's behalf. Judge Forrest's decision has given him and Saint Martin's family members hope. In her order, the judge ruled that ICE violated Ragbir's right to due process by not allowing him to organize his affairs or say goodbye before being detained. She also had harsh criticism for ICE and, by extension, the Trump administration.
"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," Judge Forrest wrote. "We are not that country; and woe be the day that we become that country under a fiction that laws allow it."
"It's just really remarkable to see some of these arguments that human rights lawyers in this country have been trying to make in the court system for years were finally latched onto in a case so similar to Lexius Saint Martin's case," said Fisher.
Calls and emails to ICE were not returned to Maine Public Radio. In a written statement provided to the Waterville Sentinel, an unnamed Immigrations official said Saint Martin was arrested on an outstanding order of removal.
"He was convicted for drug trafficking and sentenced to prison, violating the terms of his lawful status," the statement said. "At the conclusion of his prison term, he was placed in removal proceedings and subsequently issued a final order of removal by an immigration judge in 2010."
But Saint Martin has not been given any date for removal from the United States. That was also the case for Ragbir.This lack of forewarning is where Fisher said the federal judge put her foot down. She said the 5th Amendment's liberty and due process guarantees do protect someone under a final order of deportation,
"And she looked at the totality of the circumstances and found that they were depriving him of this most essential aspect of life, liberty and family," said Fisher.
Fisher said the judge's order will not prevent Ragbir from being deported, but it will give him the chance to say goodbye.