Watch Part 2 of our interview with Haitian immigrant and activist, Jean Montrevil, along with his eldest daughter and lawyer. Montrevil came to the U.S. from Haiti with a green card in 1986 at the age of 17, but a mistake he made when he was a teenager could now lead to his deportation.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to Part 2 of our conversation with a man who says he made a mistake when he was a teenager that could lead to his deportation nearly three decades later, this week, in 2017. Jean Montrevil came to the U.S. from Haiti with a green card in 1986 when he was 17 years old. During the height of the crack epidemic, he was convicted of possession of cocaine and sentenced to 11 years in prison. Upon his release, he married a U.S. citizen. He had four children and became a successful small businessman, as well as an immigrant rights activist. He has had no further interaction with the criminal justice system. But because of his earlier conviction, Jean is required to check in with immigration officers regularly under a supervision program.
Jean joined us in 2010, after he was detained at one of these check-ins and came very close to being deported to Haiti. But when a fellow detainee in the plane bound for Haiti had a fever, the illness halted the flight. And then the 2010 earthquake struck that week. With Haiti too devastated to deport people to, Jean was released. Since then, he has continued to check in, with no further threats of deportation, until last month, when he went to his first check-in under President Trump. Without any advance notice, he was detained, handcuffed, processed to be deported, until calls from his supporters apparently prompted immigration officials to release him.
Well, on Thursday, tomorrow, he has to check in again, and he’s concerned he will again be detained, and afraid he will then be deported. This comes as Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, continues to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake. It’s also suffered from a disastrous hurricane and cholera outbreak. This week, President Trump’s top immigration official warned members of Congress that Haitians living in the U.S. under a special TPS—that’s temporary protected status—may soon be placed in line for deportation. Last week, 50 of Jean’s supporters participated in a Jericho walk organized by the New Sanctuary Coalition and marched silently around the federal building here in New York, where he has to check in. Another Jericho walk is scheduled for Thursday, when he returns.
For more, we continue our conversation with Jean Montrevil in our studio here in New York, along with his eldest daughter, 18-year-old Janiah Heard, and his lawyer, Joshua Bardavid.
And we welcome you again to Democracy Now! So, if we could go first to Joshua Bardavid, talk about the legal issues here.
JOSHUA BARDAVID: Well, because of his conviction, Jean was placed in deportation proceedings. And again, as you said, this was 30 years ago. And he was out—
AMY GOODMAN: So, he was charged with possession—
JOSHUA BARDAVID: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: —goes to jail for—Jean, how many years were you in jail?
JEAN MONTREVIL: I spent 11 years in prison.
AMY GOODMAN: Eleven years.
JEAN MONTREVIL: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you came out. And how often did you have to report then to—
JEAN MONTREVIL: When I came home in 2000, I was under five-year supervision. And on my last day of that supervision, that’s when ICE came in at this probation officer’s office and picked me up, locked me up, on—in 2005. I thought I was going in to sign in, you know, my—I finished my parole. You know, I’ve been doing so, so well. And ICE came in and locked me up, and I think I spent seven months in jail then. That was in 2005.
AMY GOODMAN: But then released.
JEAN MONTREVIL: Yeah, then released, because at that time Haiti was not accepting criminal deportees. They was not taking no deportees at that time. That was the first time.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, Joshua, continue on the legal issues.
JOSHUA BARDAVID: So, actually, prior to being released from incarceration during the 11 years, in 1993, 1994, he had a deportation hearing before an immigration judge. Shockingly, during that hearing, Jean was denied the right to an attorney. He was denied the right to present witnesses. He was denied the right to present evidence. All of the—
AMY GOODMAN: This was when?
JOSHUA BARDAVID: This was in 1994, when he had his hearing before the immigration judge. What happened was, the immigration judge decided to change the date of the hearing without notifying Jean, or change the time of the hearing, so his witnesses weren’t able to come, his evidence wasn’t able to arrive, and his lawyer was not present. And the judge forced Jean to go forward with the hearing without any of these basic protections that you think of that would exist in a court hearing. While the case was on appeal, the law changed, making Jean ineligible for the waiver that he was applying for. And the Board of Immigration Appeals, the immigration appellate body, deemed that the law was applied retroactively. Now, we think of ex post facto application of laws as being a constitutional prohibition, and yet they still applied it to Jean. In 2001, well after Jean’s hearing, the Supreme Court said that it was unconstitutional to apply the law retroactively. So, what we have been trying to do since 2010 is get Jean’s case reopened so he can have, for the first time—
AMY GOODMAN: So to get that decision applied retroactively.
JOSHUA BARDAVID: Exactly, and give Jean a fair hearing for the first time with basic constitutional protections, which he hasn’t had. And that’s all we’re asking for, is the opportunity.
AMY GOODMAN: And that hearing would take place where?
JOSHUA BARDAVID: In immigration court.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, tomorrow, on Thursday, Jean has to turn himself in at 26 Federal Plaza. I shouldn’t say turn yourself in. You have to check in. And you could—
JEAN MONTREVIL: Yes, I have to check in. And you never know what’s going to happen. You know, like my lawyer was saying, during my hearing, the day before the hearing, the judge let my lawyer withdrew from the case. And I find out, until I got to the hearing, that the judge let me know that the lawyer had withdrew from the case the day before that. And nobody told me that. So now I’m in the court. I have to represent myself. I didn’t know much about the immigration laws. And my hearing was supposed to start at 1:00, but the judge started at 8:30 in the morning.
AMY GOODMAN: So no one was there.
JEAN MONTREVIL: Yes. And I had my witnesses. I was coming with my sisters, my fathers, you know, aunt, that was coming in. That was—that happened in Virginia. They was on their way to the hearing, you know? And all of that happened because the judge make that mistake. And I don’t even think it was a mistake. I think he was—the whole thing was a setup. I mean, during the war on drugs, there was a lot of people that was getting screwed all around—excuse my language. You know, the criminal system, I got screwed in it, and the immigration system. I mean, it is really terrible.
JOSHUA BARDAVID: And one of the things that really stuck with me from reading the transcript of Jean’s hearing was Jean made a plea to the judge, and he said, "Please, give me a chance." He said it probably about 15 times. "Give me a chance. I will show you, I will prove to myself, I will prove to the world, if you give me a second chance, I will make right. I will make right." And the judge didn’t give him that chance. But the crazy circumstances around what happened to Jean subsequently did give him that chance. And what he’s done since he’s been released proves that he was right. Jean was right. He was given a second chance by these strange circumstances and has done amazing things with his community, with his family, with his work, with his friends.
AMY GOODMAN: So let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about the business that you built and your family since you’ve been out of prison.
JEAN MONTREVIL: Well, my father had a religious supply store in Brooklyn. That store had been in business for about 30 years, until I took it over in 2002. And I was able to really make the business grow. What I did was I bought another—our next competition, you know. And the business, I mean, it was very—flourished, very profitable for my family. But in 2005, when I was detained, I came home. I spent seven months in immigration, so my brother was in charge, didn’t really, you know, keep up with the business. So that was my first business, ended up going. We had to sell the building, ended up going out. Then, me and my wife, of course, we started a van service, a transportation service, just to carry family members to prison to see loved ones, because it’s so hard for people living in New York City to go visit their loved one in prison.
AMY GOODMAN: So you ran vans.
JEAN MONTREVIL: Yes. And we started well, doing very well. Then we bought another van, you know, just to carry those folks. And in 2009, I got arrest—ICE again locked me up. One van got lost from in front of our house. And when I came home, I didn’t know what to do. Am I going to be deported? So, we end up stop that business, you know. But then I moved to another transportation business. We rent the vans out to people that need it, a 15-passenger van, which is what I’m still doing now.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, you have had four children.
JEAN MONTREVIL: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And Janiah Heard is one of those kids. And you’re at Mercy College now in Dobbs Ferry. What does this not knowing what will happen mean to you? What do—what are you going to school for? What are you hoping to be, Janiah?
JANIAH HEARD: I’m going to school for business and then to follow law after. I hope to become an immigration lawyer or working in criminal law.
JEAN MONTREVIL: Competition, Josh.
JANIAH HEARD: So, this will just mean, basically, I have to wake up tomorrow just not knowing what’s going to happen, because they don’t allow people to go upstairs with him, so we can’t even go to—
AMY GOODMAN: The family can’t go upstairs?
JEAN MONTREVIL: No, ICE usually let, you know, two, three or four people. I think just this past month they stopped it. You can only go with your lawyer.
JOSHUA BARDAVID: It was in response to the number of people who were accompanying friends and family members, and ICE didn’t like that. And so, unfortunately, now they’ve set up guards at the entrance to where people check in that only allow the people checking in as well as their attorney to go in and wait with them, so you don’t have that support network with you during this incredibly stressful time.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, will you be going to Federal Plaza tomorrow, Janiah?
JANIAH HEARD: Yes, I hope to go.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, your dad’s health, are you concerned about that?
JANIAH HEARD: Yes, because, you know, as like—as a child, your parent doesn’t want to really stress you, because you’re the child. They want you to live. Like, both of my parents, they work really hard to make sure me and my brothers and sister, we get what we need, and we get the type of education and the experience they want us to have in life that they never got the opportunity to have. So they don’t tell us a lot of stuff that goes on with their health and—but you can see it. Like you can see it that he’s really working hard to do what he has to do, and it’s wearing him out.
AMY GOODMAN: You became not only a successful businessman, Jean Montrevil, but also an immigrant rights activist. Can you talk about—
JEAN MONTREVIL: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —your organizing?
JEAN MONTREVIL: Well, I think it was in 2008, we—I was the co-founder of the New Sanctuary Movement. You know, me and a few other immigrants, like Joe Chen, we started this movement. And the whole idea was to have the faith leaders of this country, not just in New York state, but in the whole country—we have it, you know, in Washington, San Francisco, Chicago—where we can provide help for immigrants that’s facing deportation. And it was a very successful movement. We’re still going on today, you know. And then, now, we have the Haitian situation, where we want to stop Trump from stopping the TPS, because these Haitians who came in after the earthquake, now they have to go back to what? In Haiti, the country is still in turmoil. They still haven’t repaired, you know, all the houses. Then they had an earthquake and a hurricane right after that. People are still sleeping in tents and on the street. And how can you send, you know, deportees back to a country that’s not even stabilized yet?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, when we were just broadcasting from Florida, we did this story on TPS. You know, tens of thousands of Haitians are threatened with deportation. And it was at the point where pressure was—tremendous pressure was brought to bear on the Trump administration, so they put off for six months the deportation of Haitians to what? Next January.
JEAN MONTREVIL: Yes. But Trump already stated that he was not going to renew that agreement. You know, yesterday we met with the vice consul of the Haitian government right here in New York City. We were trying to find out how the U.S. government can send people to Haiti without the proper travel document. They used to check, before you send—before you deport anyone, you have to go to the embassy and then get an accurate where this person come from, get a travel document. United States government doesn’t do that no more. They don’t do that. They don’t. They just put you on a plane and deport you, you know? And which is a human rights violation.
AMY GOODMAN: You have a passport?
JEAN MONTREVIL: Yes, I have a passport. They know I’m not undocumented. They know where I come from, you know, because everything—you know, my passport, green card—all those things are documented. But you have U.S.—you have Haitians that came here when they was little. They don’t know if they have passport, you know? I mean—
JOSHUA BARDAVID: This is a relatively new development. What we’ve been informed is that the Haitian government has now agreed to accept people who the U.S. represents are Haitian nationals, without necessarily verifying their identity or having a travel document or passport. Now, this is what we’ve been informed. Whether or not this is actually occurring, I don’t know, I don’t have firsthand knowledge of. But if, in fact, the U.S. government is forcibly removing individuals without verifying their identity across international borders, that’s not deportation. That’s human trafficking.
AMY GOODMAN: And in the first part of our discussion, we talked about the possibility that you could be sent to jail in Haiti, being deported from the United States. And—
JEAN MONTREVIL: And that’s one of my biggest fear. I do not want to go through that process they have in Haiti, because I don’t have no family left in Haiti. You know, all my—I have 17 brothers and sisters that live over here in this country, you know, my aunts. My father passed in 1999. My mother passed when I was 6 years old. I don’t know—I left Haiti in 1986, you know, 30 years ago, over 30 years ago. I don’t know how Haiti is now, than when I left it, you know? It went way, you know, much—it used to be way much better. But once I go there now, if I don’t have a family member who can claim me—and they have to prove that they’re a U.S.—I mean, a Haitian citizen, and they are going to housing me, and I will stay in jail. And I’m afraid of that process. And I know people who has already died.
AMY GOODMAN: You went to meet with—to President—you went to Senator Schumer’s office?
JEAN MONTREVIL: Yes. We have been trying to get help from every single politician in New York state. And it seem they just refuse, you know, to get involved because of my conviction that happened 30 years ago. But with Schumer and Gillibrand office people—we met them yesterday—they were very, very, very kind to me. They promised to help to look into the case and see what they can do. All we want is the BIA to correct the mistakes that they made in 1994, you know, because I think it was pure corruption, what was going on back then. If you were selling drugs and you get caught, they’ll do whatever they can do to you to, you know, deport you or give you harsh sentence and so forth. But I have taken responsibility for what I did 30 years ago. You know, I have rehabilitated myself, you know. Now, I have grown children who’s feeling my pain. And if the BIA can just reopen the case, give me a fair chance, my hearing, my 212(c) hearing, I will be happy. Whatever happen happen.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain BIA.
JEAN MONTREVIL: The BIA is the Board of Immigration Appeal. This is where you appeal your case once the judge give you an order of deportation. I think everybody have to appeal. They are located in Virginia. If they can agree to correct their mistakes, I will be happy with that, because they’re not giving me my green card back, they’re just sending the case back to the judge. ICE office have already stated, if the BIA or the legal office ask them a question about me, they will tell them, yes, have the case reopened, because they already see the judge make the decision, then they have to follow the law and deport me, you know? And I’ve been checking for 12 years and fighting for over 20 years, ever since I got in this country. It’s just killing me now.
AMY GOODMAN: You helped start the New Sanctuary Movement. Have you considered sanctuary yourself?
JEAN MONTREVIL: Yes. I mean, the Judson Memorial Church, which is one of my biggest supporters, they have given me sanctuary. I haven’t taken physical sanctuary yet. But, you know, I want to follow the law all the way through. I want to check in. Hopefully the ICE make the right decision to let me keep on checking in. If I take sanctuary now, I would be a fugitive. And from then on, when I get released, I didn’t want to go through that. I don’t want to put my family through that. You know, I didn’t want to live under the table or—what do they call that? On the run, hiding. I know I made a mistake, you know. I want to clear my name, you know. And living in sanctuary in a church, you know, I don’t know if it’s a good or the right action for me, you know. And this is why everything is depending on ICE tomorrow, you know, whether they give me a stay until the BIA approve the case. That’s it.
AMY GOODMAN: Any final comment, Joshua?
JOSHUA BARDAVID: Just in terms of the sanctuary, I think Jean has received emotional sanctuary from the movement and has received solace from that. But I think Jean—from a physical sanctuary standpoint, I think Jean has made it clear that he’s going to continue to check in, and the power is with ICE. And they have the ability, they have the discretion, to just allow him to continue to check in, which is essentially all we’re asking for, while we’re working on getting his case reopened with the Board of Immigration Appeals.
AMY GOODMAN: What time is your check-in tomorrow?
JEAN MONTREVIL: The check-in is 9:00, but I plan to be there at 10:00. The last time I went there at 9:00, there are so many people, and they’re checking in. And it took us two hours just to call me. And I spent—I spent 45 minutes inside with handcuff, and took my money, took my cellphone, everything, and sent my lawyer out. Seriously, I’m going into custody. And that day, I had my daughter. We was going on vacation in Atlanta. I mean, I was terrified, crying and everything, because what she’s going—you know, when they find out—my little girl, 10-year-old, she’s outside. We had planned that vacation for months. And then, at check-in, the same day I was going—I booked the flight the same day that I was going to check in, you know, because I needed a vacation. And then I was in custody. I’m like, "Oh, my god! How is she—you know, how is she going to react when she find out?" I mean, that was terrible. I was so worried.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Janiah, I’m going to give you the last word. As the daughter of a man who faces detention and deportation, your comment that you’d like to share with people who watch this everywhere?
JANIAH HEARD: I just think people should just fight for what they believe is right, and don’t always just take a stand, because some people might just give up, because they feel like, "Well, they’re overpowering," but you have to fight for what you believe in.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all for being with us. Janiah Heard is the 18-year-old daughter of Jean Montrevil. Jean Montrevil faces detention and deportation, or he’ll check in tomorrow and he’ll be released by ICE. We don’t know yet. I also want to thank Joshua Bardavid, the attorney. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. We’ll keep you updated. To see Part 1 of our conversation, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.