A Judge's Magical Thinking About an Alien 'Activist's' Constitutional Rights

By Dan Cadman on January 31, 2018

A federal district court judge recently rendered a curious decision in the case of a man who was ordered deported, and thereafter taken into custody by immigration agents in order to effect the removal. (My colleague Andrew Arthur has explored the alien's circuitous immigration history.)

The judge, Obama appointee Katherine Forrest, ruled that the government had the right to effect the removal, but then went on to assert that the alien had a constitutional right to "say goodbye to his family" before the removal could be effected — and therefore ordered his release from custody.

The individual in question, Ravidath Lawrence Ragbir, touts himself as an immigration activist and head of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City. More saliently, Ragbir was formerly a lawful resident alien who lost his status and was ordered deported after being convicted of a felony, for which he served more than two years in jail. What a serendipitous union of self-promotion conjoined with advancing the aims of the "sanctuary movement"!

One cannot imagine what part of the Constitution the judge may have been contemplating when she issued this oxymoron of a decision. It apparently came in the context of a petition for writ of habeas corpus, which is the only way in which this judge was able to shoe-horn her views and preferred outcome into the framework of a "legal" decision, however strange. Otherwise, as a matter of law, she lacked jurisdiction to review the matter at all, since review of removal orders are undertaken first in an administrative appellate setting at the Board of Immigration Appeals, and thereafter in the United States Circuit Courts of Appeal — unambiguously not in the lower echelon district courts.

I imagine that all over the country, defendants in criminal proceedings, whether American or alien, are sitting up and taking notice and will now be hoping to use the judge's unique views on their constitutional rights to argue that presiding judges should not immediately remand them to jail at sentencing so that they, too, may exercise their newly discovered right to say goodbye to family, thus giving themselves one last shot at hotfooting it out of Dodge before being asked to politely turn themselves in to prison.

One hopes that the U.S. Attorney's Office will appeal the judge's decision, but whether or no, it will be interesting to watch this travesty play out to the bitter end.