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‘We Won!’ Immigrant-rights Community Celebrates End of 30-year Saga for Jean Montrevil

Issue 279

Jean Montrevil no longer has to worry about being deported.

Renee Feltz May 8, 2023

“I’m sorry we couldn’t accommodate everyone,” Immigration Judge Kyle Dandelet told those who packed a small courtroom in Manhattan’s Federal Building on April 18 to see Jean ­Montrevil get what they hoped would be his first “fair hearing” in a three-decade-long saga. 

A mix of about 30 family members and longtime supporters from Judson Memorial Church and groups like Families for Freedom crowded the seats behind the tables where Montrevil’s lawyers and prosecutors from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sat. More filled a nearby waiting room, and others watched the court’s livestream system. They were there to witness whether Judge Dandelet, a former immigrant-rights attorney appointed to the bench in 2022, would grant the request by the longtime activist and father of four to waive his deportation.

ICE aggressively worked to prevent Montrevil’s freedom. But he and his family never gave up, fighting strategically with a community of advocates.

ICE had aggressively worked to prevent Montrevil from getting to this point. But he and his family never gave up and fought strategically with a community of advocates equally determined for him to get a fair shot. Even after Trump deported Montrevil to Haiti in 2018 as part of a crackdown on immigrant activists, his legal team incredibly won his right to return in 2021 after Democatic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam pardoned him for two 1990 drug convictions ICE had used as a pretext to target him for deportation. 

 “As you can see, there are a lot of files,” the judge said as he began to review the evidence, patting a towering stack of rubber-banded blue legal folders bursting with papers. 

The hearing began with questions for Montrevil about his arrival in the United States from Haiti. 

“I was 17 years old,” he recalled. He is now 54. 

Toward the end of the friendly questions from his lawyers, Montrevil explained how he had been working to support his children again since his return from Haiti and was worried about not being able to obtain his medication if he was sent back. “It is very well documented that Haiti is not livable,” he noted.

Next up, ICE prosecutors zeroed in on Montrevil’s criminal history, even his traffic tickets. They lingered on his convictions in Virginia and asked if he’d been hired by drug dealers to transport cocaine. 

“Yes, ma’am, that is the charge that I received a pardon for,” he explained. 

“I’m truly sorry I did it and I will never ever get involved again in that type of activity,” he later added. 

The Montrevil family story was featured on the cover of the February 2018 Indypendent.

The hearing could have ended here, but a final witness offered living proof of Montrevil’s dedication to his family: his 19-year-old son, Jahsiah, who nearly dropped out of high school when his father was deported and is now a college student whose father helps pay his tuition and phone bill. 

“He pushed me to try to be the best,” Josiah testified.

When Montrevil was deported in 2018, Josiah said it was hard to understand. 

“That one incident he had all those years ago at my age couldn’t be overlooked. … It was upsetting,” he said. “It just made me upset and ashamed that people were still stuck in their old ways and could not look at the full scale of what was going on and could only see him for the criminal conviction he had.

“It would truly mean the world to me that my father would see me and my little sister graduate and that my little sister will be able to grow up with her dad being there for some of the most important years of her life, unlike I did,” Josiah concluded. 

More witnesses were ready to speak after Josiah. But as everyone reached for a tissue to dab their eyes and blow their nose, Montrevil’s lawyers made their move and asked the judge to “grant discretion to our remarkable client.”  Within 10 minutes, the judge returned with his decision. 

“I am granting your application,” he announced, and the courtroom erupted in celebration. 

“We won!” several people cheered. 

“I want to say a few things,” said the judge as he calmed people down and they grabbed more tissues. 

“You testified that after you’d been deported to Haiti and you found out your criminal conviction had been vacated that you said, ‘Finally someone sees the good in me,’” the judge recalled. “I want you to know I see the good in you too.” 

He went on to describe how he had read every letter of support filed in the case, and noted, “I understand from reading your letters many of you feel an injustice was done. I didn’t rectify it, all of you did.”

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