By Larisa Karr
The Haitian immigration activist is suing the Trump administration over deportation, alleging he was targeted for his political stances.
Passionate shouts of “Bring Jean Home!” filled the nave of Judson Memorial Church as people from all over New York City gathered on Jan. 16 to support a campaign to bring home community activist Jean Montrevil who was deported to Haiti two years ago. On Thursday, Montrevil filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) over his deportation to Haiti in January 2018. He believes his deportation is a result of his extensive activism with the New Sanctuary Coalition, an organization dedicated to ending deportations and detentions in the U.S.
“This is not who we ought to be as a city or as a country. It doesn’t make us better. It doesn’t make us stronger,” said Bitta Mostofi, Commissioner at the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “A father should not be taken from their child. A father should not be taken from their partner or their loved one and we won’t stand for that.”
In the late 1980s, Montrevil, who said he was raised by an abusive stepparent in Haiti, was arrested on drug and gun possession charges. He was incarcerated from 1989 to 2000, when he was released on probation. An immigration judge announced in 1994 he would begin removal proceedings against Montrevil. On Jan. 3, 2018, Montrevil was arrested by ICE while on a lunch break outside of his home in Far Rockaway, Queens. He would be sent back on a flight to Haiti at 7:38 a.m. on Jan. 16.
His three kids and ex-wife were present at the event and spoke about how Montrevil’s life has changed significantly since returning to Haiti. They try to communicate over WhatsApp, but the video quality is grainy and the calls frequently cut off due to power outages in Port-au-Prince.
His daughter, 12-year-old Jamya Montrevil, spoke fondly about her memories with their dad, including their frequent trips to Dave & Busters and Chuck E. Cheese. One of his sons, 16-year-old Jahsiah Montrevil, said in his speech to the audience that he needs his dad to be home so he could give him advice that he feels his mom wouldn’t be able to provide him. For example, how to talk to girls, how to date and how to be a gentleman.
He said he hopes his dad’s lawsuit will not only result in his individual return but in the eventual return of thousands of people who have been deported under the Trump Administration.
“I hope to set a precedent for other cases to help keep other families together because I know that I’m not the only one going through this right now. There have definitely been over a thousand families split up in New York alone within the past year,” said Montrevil, a media major at Brooklyn Tech. “I just would want to help prevent that and let them know that they’re not alone and they have support.”
Several politicians spoke at the campaign event and said that the city government firmly stands with Jean and will do everything in their power to ensure that he is reunited with his family.
“Jean manifested some of the most beautiful things that New York City has to offer and that is neighbors helping neighbors,” said Carlos Menchaca, the New York City Council Member for District 38. “They’re trying to make us afraid, but we are not afraid. Our campaign here today is very simple. We’re going to bring a father home.”
According to Menchaca, the New York City Council is gathering a group of lawyers to fight against ICE’s deportations. The City Council is also taking steps to reform the immigration and justice system by providing bail and legal assistance to those who cannot afford it.
As Menchaca looks to make progress on the legislation front, Cauthen and members of organizations like Families for Freedom are organizing a pardon campaign for Montrevil.
“Today, we seek justice through the largely underutilized tool of pardons,” said Violeta Múnera Guerrero, Deputy Director of Families for Freedom. “Pardons are a powerful state-based tool that can offer relief and protection to individuals like Jean and it has the potential to be a step forward in challenging state-sanctioned racism and violence towards immigrant communities.”
They are actively supporting the New Way Forward Act, which was introduced in the House in December to reform immigration laws in the U.S.
“The New Way Forward Act would give previously deported people, like Jean, the opportunity to rejoin their families and community,” said Guerrero, who has worked with immigrant communities in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and New York. “With this Act, we would be actively working towards reforming the process of enforcement in immigration laws and bringing some humanity back to our immigration system.”