February 13, 2018
Students in the clinic worked on a brief that was key in getting an immigration rights activist released from detention. Clinic Director Penny Venetis is in the center, surrounded by the students.

Rutgers Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic filed an amicus brief on behalf of detained immigration activist Ravi Ragbir, arguing that his abrupt arrest and detainment by ICE violated his rights to speak freely and criticize unjust immigration policies, which are protected by the Constitution and international law.

On Monday, January 29, 2018,  U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Forrest of the Southern District of New York agreed with Ragbir’s attorneys, ordering his release, and cited sections of the brief, which was submitted by Rutgers Law Professor Penny Venetis, who directs the clinic.

"The Court referenced our free speech brief about five times in her comments.  She clearly was concerned about Mr. Ragbir being singled out for arrest and detention for exercising his most fundamental rights,” said Professor Venetis.“This is a man who is a community leader and poses no threat to anyone. He advocates for legal reform in the most peaceful and constructive manner.  He should be applauded, not jailed.”

In its "friend of the court" amicus brief, the clinic argued that Ragbir's detention violated his First Amendment rights, as well as him rights under international law, which place great value on “political speech,” about issues of great public importance.  The Rutgers clinic also argued that it was hypocritical for the U.S. to detain Ragbir for speaking about one of the country’s most important public policy issues while simultaneously criticizing governments around the world for jailing democracy advocates who speak publicly about the need for democratic reform.

Ragbir, who was detained in January after a scheduled check-in with ICE, is the Executive Director of The New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC, an interfaith network of congregations, organizations, and individuals, who support people resisting detention and deportation. He also is married to a Rutgers Law graduate Amy Gottlieb ’96, who is an associate regional director of American Friends Service Committee.

Later in January, professors at Rutgers Law school hosted rally in support of Ragbir where clergy members, activists, and Gottlieb spoke.

Eight Rutgers Law students from the Clinic contributed to the brief, working nights and weekends and finishing the brief in just five days, during the first full week of the spring 2018 semester. 

“Hearing the cheering and applause that erupted after she read the order, and after each time she denied ICE’s attempts to stay Ravi’s release, and knowing that we were a part of that, was a very rewarding feeling.  The atmosphere was electric, it was the sort of moment you hope for when you get into public interest and civil rights areas of law. Working on that brief has definitely been the high-point of my time at Rutgers,” said law student Kevin Finckenauer ‘18.

“Hearing Judge Forrest mentioned our brief during the proceedings was really exciting. After all the hours we put into researching and formatting the document, it made it feel like everything we did was validated. Of course, it was also amazing that she ruled in our favor. The applause was incredible in the overflow room, and you could hear the cheers and excitement from the main courtroom,” said law student Brian Parcon ‘19. 

“The Rutgers law clinics have been at the forefront of defending human rights for 50 years,” said Venetis. “We will continue to work on defending the human rights of the most vulnerable among us."

Rutgers Law Student Tamara Anaie ‘19, added, “It was very chilling sitting in a court room that, within a span of one hour, changed from a room filled with anxious supporters praying for the release of their good friend from detention, to the happiest court room I have ever seen. While leaving the court room, people were hugging, kissing, and some even broke into song. It is very fulfilling knowing that the Rutgers International Human Rights Clinic was able to be part of such a powerful occasion, an occasion that will certainly have positive rippling effects. “

Rutgers Law Media Contacts:
Mike Sepanic (Camden); Elizabeth Moore (Newark)

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