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National Broadcast Exclusive…Almost Deported Before the Quake, Haitian New Yorker Jean Montrevil Speaks Out

StoryJanuary 26, 2010
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In a national broadcast exclusive, we speak with prominent Haitian community activist, Jean Montrevil. He’s just been released from jail after being held for three weeks by immigration authorities. His scheduled deportation was indefinitely put off after the earthquake in Haiti. We also speak with the Rev. Doctor Donna Schaper, as well as attorney Ira Kurzban. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A prominent Haitian New York community activist has been released after being jailed for three weeks by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Jean Montrevil was arrested last month for a twenty-year-old drug conviction for which he had already served eleven years. He hasn’t broken any law since.

Montrevil married an American citizen. He’s the father of four children who are US citizens. He’s a longtime community leader in New York City and active in a number of immigrant rights groups, including Families for Freedom and the New York City New Sanctuary Movement, as well as Detention Watch Network.

Jean Montrevil was hours away from being deported to Haiti earlier this month, when another prisoner got sick with a fever, forcing a delay. Less than a week later, the earthquake struck Haiti. While the US announced it would no longer deport Haitians, Jean Montrevil could have faced a lengthy stay behind bars. But a grassroots campaign led by immigrant rights groups and clergy helped force Immigration officials to set him free.

In this national broadcast exclusive, Jean Montrevil joins us now from our New York studio three days after his release from jail. We’re also joined by the Reverend Doctor Donna Schaper. She’s the senior minister at the Judson Memorial Church, where Jean Montrevil worships. Along with Montrevil, she’s actively involved in the New York City New Sanctuary Movement and helped organize the campaign for his release.

Let’s go right away to Jean Montrevil. Talk about what happened to you. Talk about how it is that you ended up back in jail just a few weeks ago.

JEAN MONTREVIL: Well, Amy, I want to say good morning to you.

About three weeks ago, as you know, I was on supervision, and I have always checked in with INS, Immigration official, every two weeks. And on December 30th, as always, I went to check in for what’s supposed to be a routine check-in. But that day they decided that it was time for me to be deported, and I was detained. There was no warning. They didn’t tell me in advance to prepare to come. I just went, and then that day, they decided that it was time for me to be deported to Haiti. And then, as you know, I was held at Varick Street and then transferred back — transferred to York, Pennsylvania, where I stayed for twenty-four days.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, just explain. You served time for a drug conviction. Explain when you were convicted, how long you were in jail, and then how long you were out of jail.

JEAN MONTREVIL: Well, Amy, back in 1989, during the drug epidemic — you know, it was a crisis in this country — I was arrested and convicted for possession with intent to distribute. And then I spent eleven years in prison because of that. And then, while I was in prison, that’s when Immigration started a proceeding to deport me. And in 1994, I was ordered to be deported, even though I didn’t have a fair hearing for people like myself who have a green card. And the judge ordered me deported in 1994, while I was still behind bars. And when I was released in 2000, Immigration did not come to pick me up, and I was released and placed on supervised — on supervision.

After five years in supervision, while I’m running my own business, got married, met my wife, having children and living my life like a normal citizen, and that’s when, in 2005, Immigration started what was supposed to be my last time reporting to my supervision officer. Then I was detained for six-and-a-half months, and they were trying to deport me then. At that time, Haiti was not taking any deportees, because of their own turmoils they have in Haiti, with the — the president had just been deposed in Haiti. And then they again had to release me.

And I have been home since then on supervision, going to check in. It sometimes was twice a month. Before that, it was three times a week, still on supervision, until recently, they decided that it was time for me to be deported. But I have been home for the past ten years.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you have any warning, Jean?


AMY GOODMAN: Jean, did you have any warning when they picked you up this time? And where did they take you? And then explain what happened after your — what was it? — three weeks in the Immigration jail, what happened next.

JEAN MONTREVIL: Three weeks ago, when I went to check in at 41 Broadway — it’s a ASA program they have there with the [inaudible] which I had at one time in my legs. And there was no warning. My supervisor, the officer who always supervised me, had asked me to come on Wednesday, because it was going to be a holiday, and then they was going to close on Friday. So when I went in, I didn’t expect to, you know, to be detained. So I had always with me people from my church that always accompanied me to my check-in. So, when I got there, and I knew that something was wrong, because it was taking a long time. And then, finally, I saw two ICE agents, two officers. They came in. They called me inside a room. And then, they said, “Jean, we’re going to take you to 26 Federal Plaza,” to discuss my case. So I thought, OK, we’re going over there, and then I’ll talk about the case. But when I got there, they put handcuffs on me, and then they said that I am being detained for removal.

It was a surprise to me. I didn’t know at that time what to do. I called my wife. And she didn’t know what to do. And she called my pastor, Donna, who was overseas at that time in Spain, driving. And then we gave her the bad news. And I believe right after that I was transported to Varick Street, where the same night I was — they drove me to York, Pennsylvania the same night. And then I stayed there for the past three weeks.

And when I got there, that’s when I was told, “You’re going to be deported.” I was going to be leaving on Monday, which was the 4th. And Monday, while we were ready to leave, I was already dressed up, shackled up, handcuffs on. My street clothes — they had already give me back my street clothes, money that I had, everything. And until the nurse came by and started taking people’s temperatures. Apparently before you being deported, they have to verify that you’re not sick. And they discovered another Haitian guy that was with me, he had a very high fever. And I think — I believe it was 106, very sick guy. And I was telling him that, “Listen, you need to tell these people that you are sick,” not thinking that it was going to cancel the flight at that time. But apparently, they did. They canceled the flight.

And then, on the 6th, I didn’t get to go to Haiti. And they quarantined everyone, and I stayed there until, as you know, the earthquake happened. Still they wouldn’t release me. And I was released last Saturday.

AMY GOODMAN: And Jean Montrevil, were people waiting for you in Port-au-Prince? Were they already at the airport?

JEAN MONTREVIL: Yes, yes. My twin sister had called some friends in Haiti and sent them to the airport and wait for me. While they’re at the airport, they saw that the plane came in, but I didn’t come. And they also saw my name on a list of all the deportees that came in that day. Even though I missed the flight, but they still went to Haiti and deport more Haitians. But I was fortunate that I didn’t — I didn’t go over there.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you hear about the earthquake, Jean?

JEAN MONTREVIL: I was watching the news. And when I was watching the news, 6:30, and then I saw that map. The Haitian map is very famous. And then they say earthquake. At that time, there was no pictures. And then I was in shock when I heard it was 7.0 earthquake and then the possibility of being the world’s worst disaster. And right away I called my wife, and she said, yes, she heard.

And then I couldn’t believe it. You know, this was a country — this is a country that I was going to. I could have been there. And as you know, once you get deported, you go to jail. That jail in Haiti, it’s no longer. It’s been destroyed. Part of it has been destroyed. And I could have been killed there. And, you know, I’m still trying to cope with that situation, because it is my country, I have family there that I haven’t heard from to this — you know, until now, I haven’t heard from them. And I could easily be in anywhere in that country.

AMY GOODMAN: Is your deportation off, Jean Montrevil?

JEAN MONTREVIL: I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Amy. What did you say?

AMY GOODMAN: Is your deportation off?

JEAN MONTREVIL: No, it’s not off. It’s not off. I was released, because, you know, as you know, I have so many people that have been supporting of me. And then, there was twenty-six Haitians there, and I was the only one who got released on Saturday, based on the hard work people out there has been doing on my behalf.

And I’m back on supervision. I will be report on February the 2nd at 26 Federal Plaza on a, I think — I believe it may be on a monthly basis now. I’m not sure yet. Once I go there on Tuesday, February 2nd, they will let me know. But I can be detained again at any time, once they resume deportation back to Haiti.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Dr. Donna Schaper for just a minute, the Reverend Doctor at the Judson Memorial Church. You have championed Jean’s cause. Why?

REV. DR. DONNA SCHAPER: Because enough is enough. Because what ICE has been trying to do to Jean and to many others is just plain wrong, and we couldn’t take it anymore. We had to mount a campaign here in New York. And the good news is that literally hundreds of people, regular people, have been supporting Jean, calling ICE every day, asking why, demanding to know what’s going on here. How can a father be separated from his children? How can a businessman be separated from his work? How can the United States government treat a family like this? It’s just plain wrong. And what’s been remarkable is —-

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to -—


AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring in one more person before the end of the broadcast.


AMY GOODMAN: While Jean Montrevil still faces deportation, tens of thousands of undocumented Haitians have been given at least a partial reprieve. Three days after the earthquake, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would grant temporary protected status to an estimated 125,000 undocumented Haitians. I want to turn right now to Ira Kurzban, well-known Miami lawyer who works on the issue of TPS, temporary protected status, and has worked with Haitians for years, was President Aristide’s lawyer.

In these last few minutes, Ira Kurzban, though Jean Montrevil is not protected by TPS, because he is a US resident, explain what is happening now with so many Haitians in this country. Thirty thousand were set to be deported just before the earthquake.

IRA KURZBAN: TPS, while a generous program in some respects, is limited for people who have convictions. If you have two misdemeanors or if you have one felony, of any kind, you are not eligible. I mean, there are some technical exceptions, but generally you’re not eligible. So one of the things that’s happening right now is ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is refusing to release many of the people who were in detention who are Haitian. And this kind of, you know, detention mentality, which is prevalent in that agency, has really thwarted the ability of many people to be released who obviously aren’t going back to their country any time soon, whether or not they get temporary protected status.

You know, the real problem here, Amy, is we had a bad law that was passed in 1996, virtually in secret, and an agency now that’s really, in many ways, out of control. Immigration and Customs Enforcement basically does whatever they want to do. There are very few limitations. Congress took away our ability to bring legal actions in many cases against organizations like ICE, agencies like ICE. So they are, in effect, doing whatever they want to do without any restraints. And it’s good to see that in this case, people protested, they went out, they put some pressure on them, they exposed what they’re doing publicly, because what they’re doing privately is basically keeping all these people in detention.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to end right now by asking, what are you demanding now, right now, Ira Kurzban? Ten seconds.

IRA KURZBAN: A number of things. First of all, we think they should bring many more people from Haiti, including all those people who had approved petitions by family members. We can do that. It’s about 70,000 people. Previously, we brought over 250,000 Cubans into the United States. We can certainly do that for Haitians here now.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there. I want to thank you, Ira Kurzban, speaking to us from Miami. And our guests in New York, thank you very much to Jean Montrevil — we’ll continue to follow your case — and to the Reverend Doctor Schaper of Judson Memorial Church.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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