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NYC Immigration Activist Jean Montrevil Speaks Out After Deportation to Haiti: “My Heart Is Broken”

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On Tuesday, immigrant rights leader Jean Montrevil was deported to Haiti after residing in the United States for over three decades. He came to the U.S. from Haiti with a green card in 1986 at the age of 17. During the height of the crack epidemic, he was convicted of possession of cocaine and sentenced to 11 years in prison. He served that time. Upon his release, he married a U.S. citizen, had four children, became a successful small businessman, as well as an immigrant rights activist. He has had no further interaction with the criminal justice system. Joining us from Haiti is Jean Montrevil, who was deported to Haiti on Tuesday. We are also joined by Jani Cauthen, Jean’s former wife and the mother of three of his children.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to look in more depth about the cases of Ravi Ragbir and Jean Montrevil, two leaders of the New Sanctuary Movement targeted by the Trump administration.

On Tuesday, yesterday, Jean Montrevil was deported to Haiti, after residing in the United States for over three decades. He came to the U.S. from Haiti with a green card in 1986 at the age of 17. During the height of the crack epidemic, he was convicted of possession of cocaine, sentenced to 11 years in prison. He served that time. Upon his release, he married a U.S. citizen, had four children, became a successful small businessman, as well as an immigrants’ rights activist. He’s had no further interaction with the criminal justice system.

Meanwhile, another immigrant rights leader here in New York, Ravi Ragbir, is also facing deportation. He was detained last Thursday when he went to his check-in with ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Ravi’s detention sparked a peaceful protest that was met with police violence. Police arrested 18 people, including members of the New York City Council. Ravi Ragbir is executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City. He’s now being held in Florida and faces deportation.

Well, joining us from Haiti is Jean Montrevil, deported to Haiti on Tuesday.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Jean. Are you in Port-au-Prince? Can you talk about what’s happened to you since you were arrested and then detained and deported?

JEAN MONTREVIL: Good morning, Amy. Thank you so much for having me on your program again.

Yes, I am. I just had my first wake-up in Haiti after 32 years. And I have to tell you the different feeling. Haiti has changed so much since I left.

As you very well know, I was deported on Tuesday, without any notification from my lawyer. They just deported me. My case was still in court. It seemed like it was something well organized between the ICE and the BIA. And they deported me to Haiti. And now—it was very tough, two days of hell, that started from Monday at 7:00. We didn’t get here until Tuesday. I finally got out on Tuesday at 12:30. And it was tough, very, very hard. It was very hard travel. I don’t know how to tell you, that it was very hard. Imagine staying up for two days straight, with no food and shackled up and with no explanation. And now I’m in Haiti.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your four children here in the United States? And talk about why you wanted to stay here.

JEAN MONTREVIL: Yes. As you know, my children, they are my life. I live for them. And now they have to suffer the consequence of that, you know, bad choice that I made years ago. The kids are [inaudible]. My daughter Janiah and Jahsiah, I mean, they are very aware, [inaudible] kids. They’re very good kids, very great kids. And, you know, of course, they are feeling the pain, like my son, you know, and it’s really hard. It’s hard on me. I’m still in shock, you know, just being away from them now. But, you know, they have a good mother. She’s a very great woman. She’s going to, you know, do her best and keep the foot running.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, she is with us right now. We are joined by Jani Cauthen, who is the former wife of Jean Montrevil, the mother of three of Jean’s four children. Your thoughts right now, as you listen to Jean, no longer here? You have fought so hard for him to stay here.

JANI CAUTHEN: My thoughts is, the system is really screwed up. They’re based on separating families. And to target a leader, what they didn’t know is, I’m the one that did all the research when Jean was first detained in 2005. And I’m going to continue to advocate for his rights and the rights of other immigrants.

The way they orchestrated his deportation was well planned. And Scott Mechkowski, of 26 Federal Plaza, and Thomas Decker were interfering with his decision on the BIA case. They even went as far as to put down the system where you can check the status of the case. Friday, I tried to check to see if there was a decision on his case, and the system states that it was down until Monday, which is Martin Luther King Day, which was kind of funny, because Martin Luther King Day is a legal holiday. So, on Monday, after the—before I went to the MLK situation that was going on in my church, Judson Memorial, I called the hotline. To my surprise, his case was denied on Friday, the 12th. They made sure they did it that way so his lawyer would not be able to get a stay, because it was a holiday. But what they didn’t realize, his lawyer was able to put in an appeal. So he still has a pending legal case here.

AMY GOODMAN: So, are you saying, Jean, that you were deported even as you have a pending legal appeal in the United States?

JEAN MONTREVIL: Yes, yes, even as my court—the BIA did not make a decision yet. And they basically called the BIA and forced the BIA to make that decision, which, to me, it’s illegal. They’re not supposed to interfere with the case. It was well—like Jani said, it was a well-planned, orchestrated deportation.

Why I was targeted, I have no idea. All I have done is take care of my kids, go to work and mind my business and try to stay out of trouble. I have been home for 17 years. Not one time I ever got arrested, you know? And my kids, they need me. I need them. And now they have to pay the price for something that I did 32 years ago, you know. And it’s unbelievable that America is going to that direction now. It’s very hard. I mean, my heart is broken. You know, I have no words for it there.


JEAN MONTREVIL: My heart is broken now. My heart is broken.

AMY GOODMAN: Jean, can you describe how you were arrested? ICE came to your house?

JEAN MONTREVIL: Yes. I was on my way to work. I was running late for work. I was working for NYU Winthrop Hospital doing shuttle service. And I was supposed to be there at 2:00. On my way to work, I was walking on the street. I heard somebody call my name: “Jean Montrevil!” I looked. It was four ICE officers. And they came, and they was like, “Oh, we have a warrant for your arrest.” They didn’t show me no warrant. They had no paperwork, nothing. Then they handcuffed me, put me in the back of the car and then took me to 26 Federal Plaza. And that same night, they sent me to New Jersey. And then, the next day, they fly me to Miami. At that moment, I knew that that was something that was planned. Once you go to Miami processing, the next step is to Haiti, even though my case was still in court.

AMY GOODMAN: Jean, do you feel you have been targeted because of your activism around the New Sanctuary Coalition with Ravi Ragbir? Do you feel this is why they are—they have deported you?

JEAN MONTREVIL: Definitely, definitely, because I have been under supervision for 15 years, and I’ve never violated. I have always made my appointment. And I stay out of trouble. I have volunteered, and I work and take care of my kids. I pay taxes every year. I did everything right. Everything they asked me to do, I have done it. So why target me now?


JEAN MONTREVIL: It has to be for the new sanctuary movement.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you—are you sorry that you engaged in that kind of activism? Did it ever hold you back, thinking, “If I just be quiet, lay low, they won’t deport me, they won’t arrest me, as they haven’t for years”?

JEAN MONTREVIL: You know, I mean, when I was arrested in 2010, I met with the director of ICE, Mr. Shanahan. He did ask me to be quiet, something in that line, like slow down or blah, blah, blah. I had did that. I did slow down. But I can’t regret the work that we did with the sanctuary movement, because no one knew about what ICE was doing until we started that movement. And it’s a great organization, and I’m happy to be part of it. You know, but—


JEAN MONTREVIL: —ICE has so much power.

AMY GOODMAN: Jean Montrevil, is it true that ICE said they would not arrest you in this way, out on the street, just take you?

JEAN MONTREVIL: Yes. As long as I reported, they were not going—until last week, they said that they were going to let me stay until I finished with the court system. I’m still in court now. Why I’m in Haiti? You know, so they lie, they lie, they lie. All they’re giving you is lie, lie, lie. And then, just to deport you.

AMY GOODMAN: What has this meant for—let me ask Jani what this has meant for your children here, as Jean now has been sent to Haiti after over three decades in the United States.

JANI CAUTHEN: I’m going to speak about the good part first. Our son Jahsiah, he was very shy and laid back. This had made him into a mini activist. He put the petition out on He generated over 10,000 signatures within the first six days that it was posted, trying to get, you know, people to support his dad’s release. He goes to Brooklyn Tech High School, which is one of the top schools in the world. He started reaching out to his principal, his assistant principal. One of his friend’s moms works for a news station. She reached out to me. She wanted to do his story.

As far as Janiah, she’s a sophomore at Mercy College. She—

AMY GOODMAN: Janiah was on our show—


AMY GOODMAN: —with Jean, in the studio.

JANI CAUTHEN: She reached out to her fellow students and faculties to get them to support her dad. Janiah just told me this morning, she said, “Mommy, they gave me a shout out on the mic yesterday because of my strength. A lot of kids don’t know about immigration, so I had to tell them.”

As far as the negative part, I try to keep them positive, because they’re in school. They’re sad. They’re missing their dad. But I told them, “All of you guys have passports, and you will be with your dad. You can’t allow a broken system to destroy you. One day, you know, we’ll all be free.” America was created on slavery. Slavery was a law. So, the same way, a law made them put him in deportation proceedings, because, if you think about him and Ravi, they got convicted in the '80s. The law changed in the ’90s. Why does that apply to them? I'm sitting here as a U.S. citizen. If I did something in the '80s, the ’90s law wouldn't apply to me. So, it’s obvious it’s racism.

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