Second Circuit Holds that Immigrant Activist Ravi Ragbir May Challenge His Deportation Based on First Amendment Retaliation Grounds

April 25, 2019

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals held today that the courts have jurisdiction to consider whether the First Amendment prohibits U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from targeting immigrants in retaliation for exercising their right to free speech. The case involves Ravi Ragbir, a prominent immigrant rights activist whom ICE sought to deport because he engaged in speech that was critical of the agency.

“Today’s decision makes clear that immigrants facing deportation don’t belong in a First Amendment black hole,” said Ramya Krishnan, Staff Attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “The government can’t close the courthouse doors to immigrants who claim the government is retaliating against them because of their political advocacy.”

ICE sought to deport Ragbir to Trinidad & Tobago. He has not lived there for 25 years, and deportation would separate him from his wife, his daughter, and his longstanding community in New York City. Although ICE could have sought Ragbir’s removal over a decade ago, it has done so under circumstances suggesting that it is Ragbir’s First Amendment-protected activism, not his immigration status, that is motivating ICE’s conduct.

The Knight Institute and Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) filed an amicus brief in the case in support of Ravi Ragbir. Multiple immigrants’ rights organizations are also plaintiffs in the case, which sought an injunction preventing the removal of Ragbir and other immigration activists based on their political speech.

In today’s decision, the court held that ICE’s retaliatory conduct was “outrageous,” and “[t]o allow [that] conduct to proceed would broadly chill protected speech, among not only activists subject to final orders of deportation but also those citizens and other residents who would fear retaliation against others.”

“Today's decision provides a crucial check against government suppression of disfavored views,” said ICAP executive director Joshua Geltzer, a lawyer formerly at the National Security Council staff and the Department of Justice’s National Security Division. “We’re glad to see the Second Circuit recognize that the Constitution does not allow the government to force immigrants to choose between remaining in the country or expressing their opinions.”

Read the decision here.

Read the amicus brief here.

For more information, contact: Lorraine Kenny, Communications Director, Knight Institute, lorraine.kenny@knightcolumbia.org.

About the Knight First Amendment Institute

The Knight First Amendment Institute defends the freedoms of speech and the press in the digital age through strategic litigation, research, and public education. Its aim is to promote a system of free expression that is open and inclusive, that broadens and elevates public discourse, and that fosters creativity, accountability, and effective self-government.

About Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection

Founded at Georgetown Law in 2017, ICAP draws on its leadership’s extensive background in national security law and policy to defend American constitutional rights and values. ICAP has previously engaged in litigation to protect the speech rights of immigrant activists, including being part of a team successfully defending on appeal a lower court decision striking down as unconstitutional a Texas law that made it a crime for local elected officials to advocate against cooperating in enforcing federal immigration policy.