A rally for immigration reform in honor of Bushwick resident Jean Montrevil, who may be deported to Haiti. — Photo by Aaron Short

While the world’s attention has turned to Haiti this past week, one Haitian immigrant would prefer to be back in his home in Bushwick where he has lived since 2000.

Jean Montrevil is not in his devastated homeland, but in an immigration detention center in York, PA, and may eventually be deported back to Haiti.

On December 30, 2009, Montrevil was detained during a routine check-in by Homeland Security after his appeals ran out. A legal permanent resident who entered the country in 1986, Montrevil was convicted in his early 20s for selling cocaine. Prosecuted in a Virginia state court, he received 27 years in prison, more than the five years required by mandatory federal sentencing guidelines.

Released after 11 years, he opened a van service and took over his father’s Filomena Religious Store, a shop selling candles and religious supplies in South Brooklyn. He soon married a Brooklyn-born woman, Janay, and they became increasingly involved in immigration issues in the Haitian community and with their church, Judson Memorial, in Manhattan. He continued to check in with immigration officials, including in September 2009.

Unfortunately, immigration policies passed ten years after he was arrested endangered Montrevil’s ability to stay in the United States. Laws signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 allowed for the deportation of noncitizens who commit a felony. The laws apply to Montrevil — retroactively.

Montrevil’s attorney is quoted by AlterNet alleging that he did not know why his client was arrested in December — as opposed to any previous time — and was given no explanation from Homeland Security. He had been in deportation proceedings since 2005.

“My client is eligible for deferred action. [Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)] has not yet refused or granted it.”

According to a Homeland Security spokesperson quoted in the same article, “One of ICE’s primary missions is to remove foreign national criminals from the United States. ICE… is the federal government’s deportation unit,” said Mike Gilhooly, who noted that of the 2.3 million deported from 1997 to 2007, 37 percent have criminal records. “Jean Murat Montrevil is an aggravated felon with a significant criminal record who has a final order of removal from an immigration judge. Montrevil has exhausted all of his appeals and ICE will enforce the immigration judge’s order.”

Jean Montrevil.
Chicago Indymedia

Montrevil feels he is being made an example and that the arrest amounts to double jeopardy.

“Why do I have to keep paying for crimes I already served time for? I feel marked for life,” Montrevil told AlterNet. “I complied with whatever they asked of me."

With the likelihood of deportation a constant threat, immigrant advocacy groups, including Bushwick-based Make the Road New York, have invoked Montrevil’s case as a cornerstone for immigration reform. On January 14, the New York City Immigration Coalition mobilized for a rally at Montrevil’s church, which coincided with others held throughout the nation. At the rally, Janay Montrevil said that if her husband were deported to Haiti before the earthquake, she would likely have been a widow.

“The last two weeks of my life have been hell,” said Mrs. Montrevil. “I should not have to explain to my children why daddy is not home… The earthquake is a tragedy, but I think it is also a wake-up call. Obama has to pave a path to citizenship… He had an immigrant in his family. If she can get in, why can’t we?”

Simultaneously, New York congressmembers, including Jerrold Nadler, Nydia Velázquez, Edolphus Towns, and Jose Serrano, have been pressuring Homeland Security to release Montrevil. These members will be instrumental in crafting a bill when Congress introduces immigration reform legislation later this year. Immigrant advocates said they would continue to pressure public officials to pass laws that include components for workers’ rights and due process in criminal deportation proceedings.

Many New York legislators wrote letters to President Obama to grant Temporary Protective Status (TPS) to Haitian nationals in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.  On January 15, Obama granted a temporary reprieve from deportation for Haitians in the United States illegally, which was praised by several congressmembers.

"For Haitians in the United States, there is simply no option to return home now, and those who have been granted TPS can work in the United States and send resources home to their families and friends," said Congresswoman Velázquez. "As an immediate form of humanitarian aid, TPS will allow the Haitian government to invest all of its attention and resources to helping those most at need.”

Unfortunately for his supporters, TPS is not likely to be applied to Montrevil, who remains at risk for deportation to his ravaged country.