Two years to the day that longtime New York City-based immigrant rights activist Jean Montrevil was deported to Haiti, a country he had not seen in three decades, his family and supporters announced their plan to bring him home.
“We are not going to give up,” Montrevil said today in a statement that his 16-year-old son Jahsiah read during a campaign kick-off event this morning at Judson Memorial Church.
Montrevil’s four children and ex-wife, Jani Cauthen, stay in touch with him regularly via calls and texts. But Jahsiah said it is “difficult trying to go through life, me being a young black man growing up without having my father there to support me, teaching me what to do in certain situations, or just teaching me how to be a man.”
He added that he hopes his father will be there for his graduation next year from Brooklyn Tech High School.
Jahsiah reads a statement from his father, from Haiti: “We are not going to give up.” pic.twitter.com/mP11OFnO7C
— Renee Feltz (@reneefeltz) January 16, 2020
A key part of the effort to reunite Montrevil with his family and friends is a new lawsuit the New York University Immigrant Rights Clinic filed today in U.S. District Court, which argues his deportation should be reversed because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) targeted him in retaliation for his activism.
“ICE surveilled, arrested, detained and deported Jean Montrevil as part of a coordinated effort to silence activist leaders who spoke out against them,” NYU Law Student Diana Rosen said today. “ICE violated Jean’s constitutional rights at every turn.”
ICE claimed it targeted Montrevil and arrested him while he was on his lunch break in 2018 — weeks before a regularly scheduled check-in — because of a conviction that is now more than three decades old.
But his family and supporters say this followed more than a decade of regular check-ins with ICE. The brief filed today notes that after his last offense in 1989, for which he served a 10-year sentence and was released in 2000, he was never arrested in the 18 years that followed.
During that same time he started a family, worked to support them, and helped found the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City in 2007, which has grown into an interfaith network that works in solidarity with families resisting detention and deportation so they can stay together.
When members of the coalition started to accompany Montrevil to his check-ins with ICE, officers tried to intimidate him for speaking to the Village Voice, and in 2009 they arrested him and tried to deport him. Mass protests and civil disobediences followed, and he was ultimately released when Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake in January 2010.
According to the lawsuit filed today, then-ICE Field Office Director Christopher Shanahan met with Montrevil and his supporters and “offered to consider deferred action… if he kept his head down.”
It was in 2017, after Trump was elected and began to enact his anti-immigrant policies that Montrevil felt he had to speak out again. A few weeks before his check-in he attended a public vigil with members of the New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC. At his next visit with ICE he faced extensive questions and was threatened with detention before being released with an order to check-in again one month later.
Before then, he joined his lawyer and daughter Janiah on Democracy Now! and asked how ICE could try to deport him “back to a country that’s not even stabilized yet?”
Later that year, nearly two weeks until his next check-in and while he still had an appeal pending before the Board of Immigration, plain-clothes ICE officers surprised Montrevil by arresting him as he left his home in Far Rockaway to return from his lunch break. After taking steps to block his family, lawyer and supporters from accessing Montrevil, ICE deported him on January 16, 2018.
The case filed today argues his deportation should be reversed because ICE interfered with Montrevil’s access to justice and deported him in retaliation after he exercised “protected core political speech,” violating the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
To support this argument, the brief cites the case of the Director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, Ravi Ragbir, in which a federal appeals court ruled in a 3-0 decision that he had a valid claim that ICE attempted to deport him in as retribution for his political speech.
“The conclusion that ICE would nonetheless still be free to deport Ragbir on the basis of his advocacy would certainly draw considerable media attention,” the court wrote, “and thus would be a particularly effective deterrent to other aliens who would also challenge the agency and its immigration policies.”
Ragbir was freed from detention after the case interrupted ICE’s attempt to deport him last year, and has a check-in with ICE next week on Jan. 23.
Now, as Montrevil’s case winds through the courts, his supporters are calling on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to compliment the legal effort now underway so he can return home to seek justice.
“We demand the governor pardon Jean,” said Albert Saint Jean with Black Alliance for Just Immigration.
State Senator Brad Holyman said he and other lawmakers will “seek a pardon for Jean because we know a decades-old drug offense is not a reason to deport” him. Holyman also declared today Jean Montrevil Day and recognized his family for their efforts on his behalf.
“They want to silence Jean but instead they’ve only sparked a larger movement and our voices are louder than ever,” New Sanctuary Coalition co-founder Reverend Juan Carlos Ruiz said as he concluded today’s event. “ICE cannot deport a movement. We demand that our government right their wrongs and bring Jean home.”
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