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“I Always Wanted to be With My Kids”: Haitian Father of Four One Step Closer to Reversing Trump-Era Deportation

Issue 266

Renée Feltz Sep 16

Jean Montrevil, a father of four and longtime leader in New York City’s immigrant rights movement, never gave up trying to return home after ICE deported him to Haiti in 2018.

“I always want to be with my kids, watch them grow up,” he told The Indypendent in a phone call from Port-au-Prince.

Montrevil was overjoyed when his lawyer called on Aug. 18 with news that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam had granted him a pardon for two 1990 drug convictions Immigration and Customs Enforcement had used as a pretext to deport him.

“Finally we are winning and someone with a good heart sees I deserve a second chance,” Montrevil said. “I didn’t sleep the whole night. That’s how happy I was. It is about time.”

Like many Black immigrants, Montrevil faced the double punishment of deportation after he served a harsh sentence decades ago at the height of the War On Drugs. He wasn’t deported immediately. Upon his release from prison in 2000, he reported to ICE check-ins while raising four children with his then-wife Janay and running a small business. A man of faith, he also helped found the New Sanctuary Coalition to engage churches in immigrant defense with another group he was part of called Families for Freedom.

“No one wants to listen to us,” Montrevil said. “We need these organizations to spread the news.”

When ICE threatened to deport him in 2005, Montrevil’s family and supporters began seeking a pardon so he could apply to restore his lawful permanent resident status. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained him at the end of 2009, then released him after the Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. He was told that he wouldn’t be bothered if he stayed out of advocacy work and was later deported after he spoke out against President Trump’s attacks on immigrants.

For the past three years, Montrevil has worked on the pardon remotely with his “team back home,” a defense committee anchored by members of Judson Memorial Church and Families for Freedom, with support from New York University School of Law’s Immigrant Rights Clinic.

“We submitted an updated set of materials to Gov. Northam’s office in 2020 and an incredible campaign has supported Jean, including numerous immigrant rights groups and members of Congress,” said Alina Das, co-director of the clinic. “We felt the power of that organizing would be heard, but getting the pardon granted was a huge relief.”

Das says the pardon makes Montrevil eligible to file a motion to reopen his case with the Board of Immigration Appeals. But that road can be long and winding, so his team’s more immediate focus is humanitarian parole.

“Humanitarian parole is a specific action the Department of Homeland Security can take when it seeks to give someone permission to come into the United States,” Das explained. “It is not safe for him to remain in Haiti separated from his four U.S. citizen children when the governor issued him a pardon for the very reason he faced deportation to begin with,” she added, alluding to the near dissolution of Haiti’s government after its president was assassinated in July, last month’s earthquake and long-standing social and economic instability.

Northam’s pardon comes as part of his work to advance racial equity since he survived a 2019 blackface scandal, in part with help from Black Democrats who as the New York Times put it, “saw a chance for policy concessions” as Virginia attempts to reckon more broadly with its history of enslaving and exploiting Africans and indigenous people when it was a colony as well as having been the heart of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

“We hope what is happening in Jean’s case and the momentum built by this pardon gives other Black immigrants hope the injustice in their case can also be corrected,” said Das.

“With faith and hard work anything is possible,” said Montrevil’s ex-wife Janay, who is the new executive director of Families For Freedom, one of the first groups she reached out to for help. Janay, who remained close to Jean to co-parent their children over the years, spoke to The Indy while preparing to head to Washington D.C. with their youngest daughter for the Make Good Trouble rally.

The same weekend, their oldest daughter, Janiah, and son, Jahsiah, joined members of Judson Memorial Church for a vigil in Washington Square Park. Led by two people carrying a banner that read “Bring Jean Home,” they helped pass out flyers with the same tagline followed by details on how to send a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas calling for humanitarian parole for Montrevil.

“We just want everybody to know what’s going on,” explained Janiah.

Like their mother, Jean and Janay’s children are active with Families for Freedom and wore the black T-shirts often donned by members, which feature white letters that spell out, “Deportee.”

“I’ve been in the organization since 2005, but I was two-years-old at that time so I didn’t really know what was going on,” laughed Jahsiah, who recently completed the group’s Leadership Development Program that teaches members organizing skills.

“He would tell us to not stop fighting,” Jahsiah said of his father. “Even though it looks like he is coming back, there are still a lot more immigrants out there going through this.”

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