ICE is After My Activist Husband. But We Won't Live in Fear | Opinion

Tomorrow, July 24, my husband Ravi Ragbir will once again present himself at 26 Federal Plaza in New York City for a mandated check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is the second time in six months that Ravi has had to appear before ICE, even though he is protected by a stay of deportation from a federal court. He is being told to appear in their office, even though thousands of people – friends, family, clergy, elected officials and others – have asked ICE to not deport him.

Each time Ravi reports to ICE, I have the same sense of dread, the same flashback to January 11, 2018, when Ravi was detained at a regularly scheduled check-in. The memory of that day is still fresh in my mind – the moment when Ravi was handcuffed, the flat, bitter tone of the ICE officer telling us that Ravi's time was up, that he was going to be deported back to Trinidad, a country he left over 25 years ago.

We are just one of millions of families who live with the fear of being torn apart by the cruel actions of ICE agents and the unjust policies of the federal government. Yet Congress keeps giving ICE more money to carry out their destructive agenda. Last month, Congress voted to approve $209 million in supplemental funds for the agency, despite ICE's horrific record of family separation, human rights abuses, and detention and deportation, on top of the more than the seven billion dollars ICE already gets annually. And the agency is seeking even more funds for the coming year. This money goes directly to detention and deportation operations like the one that detained my husband.

Ravi was released from immigration detention a little over two weeks later, and since then various federal courts have stopped ICE from deporting him. Although these stays of deportation give us a bit of peace of mind, we don't know what the courts will ultimately decide. Instead of making plans for the future we survive day to day, trying to appreciate each moment. We are among thousands of people in living in this same state of limbo, hoping that a reprieve will come.

But even as we push away our fears, dread simmers underneath that at some point we might lose this long struggle for our freedom to be together in the U.S. That simmering comes to a full boil when Ravi is told that he has to appear for his scheduled check-in with ICE. Those appointments are the government's attempts to remind us that they still have control over us, even though the courts have said they cannot act on Ravi's deportation. The ICE office is aware of the stress the check-ins cause, of the frustration and anger they create when they refuse to let me, Ravi's wife, in the room during the check-in process, or when they tell elected officials that they cannot be present. These check-ins highlight the lack of power we have to change the minds of the security guards who block access to a waiting room, who refuse to tell us their names, who refuse to treat us with dignity. I feel that fear every time I walk into the federal building, knowing that Ravi is at risk.

ICE does not need to make people report in, but it does so regularly. They make us wait, sometimes for hours, to learn what they have decided on a case – whether they will choose to detain someone or let them go, whether they will put someone on an ankle monitor or tell them to return in a week or two weeks or a month or six months. They decide whether family members will have a chance to say goodbye or whether they will be snatched away, unable to attend the next family celebration or even pick up their child from school. I can only assume that ICE's interest is in intimidating immigrants into feeling afraid, even pushing them to give up their struggle.

Our family, our friends and community, and millions of others need policymakers to act. We need policies that welcome immigrants rather than criminalizing them. But as a first step, we need Congress to defund ICE, to limit their capacity to perpetuate these harms rather than continuing to give them more resources.

Despite our fears, Ravi will appear for his check-in. We will not succumb to ICE's intimidation tactics. We will stand up to them, with our community standing behind us and our elected officials, families, friends, clergy and legal team leading the way. We will not back down in fear, but will walk proudly and strongly, and will show them the power of collective action. It is time for Congress to take a courageous stand too.

Amy Gottlieb is the associate regional director of the American Friends Service Committee's Northeast office.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​