PHOTO ESSAY BY DONNA ACETO, REPORTING BY PAUL SCHINDLER | Even as congressional leaders scrambled Thursday to forge an agreement on the fate of roughly 800,000 Dreamers, federal agents in Manhattan from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained a leading immigration rights advocate, Ravi Ragbir, as he did a routine check-in with government officials. When he learned he was being detained, Ragbir, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, fainted and as an ambulance arrived to carry him to a hospital, a crowd of supporters including several city councilmembers, arrived at the Jacob Javits Federal Building downtown to protest the immigration rights leader’s detention.
A scuffle between the activists and police and federal authorities led to the arrest of Councilmembers Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn, both of whom were captured on video receiving rough treatment. Chelsea’s Corey Johnson, the new Council speaker, was also on hand, and, according to the New York Times, said, “It got a little too rough here today from law enforcement,” before telling a nearby police official, “Your people were out of control!” He added, “I want the PC to call me now!,” referring to NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill.
Hours later, at 5 p.m., immigration rights advocates turned up outside the Manhattan offices of ICE at the federal building at Varick and Houston Streets. Among those showing their support for Ragbir were members of the New Sanctuary Coalition, Make the Road New York, Rise and Resist, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Brooklyn Councilmember Brad Lander, Former Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Linda Sarsour, an advocate for American Muslims who helped organize last January’s Women’s March, Reverend Donna Schaper of Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square Park, and actress and activist Kathleen Chalfant. Police adopted a largely hands-off approach to the late-day protest.
As the demonstrators were rallying on Varick Street, Trump was busy at the White House throwing a huge wrench into the discussions about immigration and a fix for the dangers facing the nearly million residents in the US under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program by referring to Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations as “shithole countries.” Last year, the president had said, according to the New York Times, that Haitian immigrants “all have AIDS” and that Nigerian immigrants would never “go back to their huts.”
Last night, the White House defended the president’s words without making any reference to the “shithole” comment. When Trump took to Twitter this morning to try to backpedal, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the minority whip and the only Democratic elected official in the room, said the president had used the word “shithole” repeatedly amidst comments that were “hate-filled, vile, and racist.”