New York (AFP) - Immigration agents arrested a prominent New York activist on Thursday to be deported, sparking scuffles between his supporters and police as the Trump administration tightens its screws on migration.
Ravi Ragbir, who last lived in his birth country of Trinidad and Tobago a quarter of a century ago, was taken into custody at his annual appointment with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent in Manhattan.
He lived for years under fear of deportation since a wire fraud conspiracy conviction in 2001.
He was saved previously thanks to a series of deferrals and by a former US administration that prioritized the deportation only of violent criminals.
Witnesses said Ragbir was driven away in an ambulance after fainting, surrounded by a crowd of supporters shouting "Ravi, Ravi" trying to prevent the vehicle from leaving, which descended into scuffles.
Police said 18 people were arrested for minor offenses such as disorderly conduct or obstructing paramedics, all but one of whom have since been released with one suspect due to appear before a judge.
Elected New York council member Corey Johnson said police manhandled a fellow council member, calling it "totally unacceptable."
An ICE spokeswoman said Ragbir "will remain in custody pending removal to Trinidad," saying he had exhausted his petitions and appeals.
Ragbir has not lived in Trinidad for more than two decades. His US immigration lawyer wife and American-born daughter are "devastated," his lawyer Alina Das said.
"He's a good man," Das told AFP, confirming that he had no right to further court hearings, but that she had nonetheless filed appeals demanding his release.
"Ravi represents so much of what's great about this country, we'll continue to fight for him. We've fought tirelessly for him because we believe in him."
Ragbir entered the United States on a visitor's visa in February 1991 and went on to acquire a green card, but in 2001 was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud while working for a mortgage lender.
He spent three years under house arrest appealing his sentence and two years in a US federal jail.
He was then incarcerated two more years in New Jersey and Alabama, awaiting deportation. His lawyers appealed but the Supreme Court declined to intervene.
For years he had been running the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York, an interfaith network that trains dozens of volunteers to accompany migrants to ICE appointments and works to resist deportations.
"I am living in fear," he told AFP last March.