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“A Big Relief”: Haitian Immigrant Rights Leader Jean Montrevil Wins Victory in Fight to Stay in U.S.

StoryDecember 20, 2021
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Longtime immigrant rights leader Jean Montrevil has been granted three years of protection from deportation as part of a settlement for the First Amendment lawsuit Montrevil filed against the U.S. government that argued federal immigration officials targeted him for deportation due to his activism. Montrevil was abruptly deported to Haiti in 2018 but was allowed under the Biden administration to return home to New York in October to reunite with his family. We speak with Jean Montrevil, who says the news has given him “peace of mind” to enjoy the holiday season without fear of getting detained or deported, as well as Montrevil’s lawyer Alina Das, who attributes the highly unusual decision to the strength of the immigrant rights movement. “It is the power of organizing that brought the government to the negotiating table,” says Das.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.

We end today’s show with a story Democracy Now! has been following for years. The longtime immigrant rights leader Jean Montrevil has been given three years of deferred action that will allow him to remain in the United States to pursue a path to permanent status.

Jean Montrevil was abruptly deported to Haiti in 2018 but was allowed to return home to New York in October to reunite with his family. Last week, he was granted three more years in the U.S. as a result of a settlement to a First Amendment lawsuit he filed against the U.S. government. Montrevil had argued federal immigration officials targeted him for deportation due to his activism, including his criticism of the Trump administration’s policies towards Haiti.

In a moment, we’ll be joined by Jean Montrevil, but first I wanted to go back to October to hear him speak moments after landing at JFK Airport here in New York, where he was greeted by family and supporters.

JEAN MONTREVIL: I’m excited to be with my family. It has been my whole dream. And the trip was OK. I’ve been up since 4:00 this morning. I haven’t ate nothing. I’m really happy to be with my family. This has been my whole fight, fighting to be with my kids. And I’ve always wanted to be with my kids. And now I get a second chance to be with them again. Exactly, they have —

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Jean Montrevil, who joins us now in New York along with his lawyer, Alina Das. She is the co-director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at NYU School of Law and part of the legal team for Jean.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Jean, we talked to you after you — well, when you were deported to Haiti, then when you returned back to New York. This is so unusual. How do you feel now hearing this news? And explain what the decision was.

JEAN MONTREVIL: Amy, this is a big relief for me. I think, for the past 17 years, this is probably the first time that I’m going to be able to enjoy the holiday season with my family without worrying about being detained and deported. I mean, this decision is huge, three years that I don’t have to worry, I can have peace of mind.

But, as you know, the case is not over yet. This is just a temporary three years, and then we have to file, go to the BIA and then get permanent status. And hopefully my lawyers can help me do that. I have a great legal team and great support team from my church. It’s unbelievable. I’m so happy right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Alina Das, take us through the legal story of Jean Montrevil. I always want to say Jean, because you are Haitian, but —

JEAN MONTREVIL: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: — you call yourself Jean. Can you talk about what he has gone through, how he was deported under Trump and then brought back to the United States?

ALINA DAS: Sure. So, the deportation in 2018 is really a capstone of a series of injustices in Jean’s case. That deportation was based on retaliation. Jean is an outspoken activist. He’s a leader of our immigrant rights movement. And for that, he was targeted. And that’s why we’ve filed a First Amendment lawsuit, suing the government, because you can’t choose who to depart based on them criticizing the government for its deportation policies. And we filed that lawsuit, and we’ve been litigating it ever since.

But I have to say that this is a victory really for the power of organizing. The law is very clear. It’s always been clear and on our side. But it is the power of organizing that brought the government to the negotiating table and gave us this possibility for Jean to come back to the United States and now to have three years of deferred action.

But, as Jean mentioned, this is just one of the injustices in his case. His deportation stems from a decades-old deportation order that was issued against him in a very unfair circumstance without due process. We are asking the government now to join us in reopening his case so that he can finally get his permanent resident status back and be on a path to citizenship.

AMY GOODMAN: Alina, how unusual is this?

ALINA DAS: Well, these days, victories are few and far between, so it feels very unusual. But we’re hoping it’s really the start of a beginning, a new chapter. We’re asking this administration to fight for the exercise of positive discretion in many people’s cases. There are millions of immigrants like Jean who just want to be with their families, who want to live a life without fear of deportation. This administration has the power to exercise discretion in their cases, as well, and we hope that they will be using that discretion more boldly now.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Jean, how do you feel about speaking out? I mean, now you have three years here. We have been covering, of course, the plight of thousands of Haitians who have tried to come into the United States, the famous story of the Del Rio bridge and Haitians being whipped by Border Patrol, then the Torrance jail in New Mexico, where the level of abuse of immigrants and the mass deportation. Your thoughts?

JEAN MONTREVIL: Amy, I’ve been here for two months. I have to tell you, from my personal opinion, I think this country is probably in trouble. They’re in trouble because of what they did to immigrants. Like Mr. Bowman was just saying, immigrants are the engine of this country. We are the backbone of this country. I cannot tell you how much now America is suffering because of what they did to immigrants for the past 10, 15 years. You know, the service is bad, prices are going up, and all of that contribute to the lack of immigrants in this country. Immigrants are always taking the job that the Americans don’t want to take. Now when you go to a grocery store, you’re buying food that you used to pay $2 for, now it’s $5. And that’s because farms don’t have workers no more. I just experienced a couple days ago — I went to a coffee shop, a national coffee shop, and I got disrespected, because the Americans that’s working there now, they are more — you know, they don’t give you good service.

And I’m not a politician, but just to hear what the Representative Bowman just said, it’s a fact: America needs immigrants. And then they are paying a big price for it. It doesn’t matter whether you are for immigrants or not: We’re all suffering because of the lack of immigrants in this country. I think the administration should think twice and reverse their decision on deporting especially those Haitians at the border. It broke my heart, like I told you the last time. We need immigrants in this country. This is a country of immigrants. And I’m hoping that Biden can realize that and then give these people a chance.

AMY GOODMAN: Alina Das, you mentioned the importance of organizing. We just got word that a number of the Haitian asylum seekers at Torrance in Estancia, New Mexico, have been released. And you’ve said that something like a thousand people may have been deported due to exercising their First Amendment. Can you talk about what happens next in Jean’s case and how you deal with all of these cases?

ALINA DAS: The importance of organizing is incredible to our movement. We know what’s happening inside detention centers when immigrants feel that they can speak out. But it’s true: Today, immigrants face retaliation if they speak out, if they organize protests. And that’s something that we need to stop.

So, our government now, thanks to people like Jean, have recognized that that’s true. They’ve recognized the importance of the First Amendment. We’ve seen it in Secretary Mayorkas’s most recent guidance saying that immigration officials shouldn’t retaliate against people for using and exercising their First Amendment rights.

But we have to see that principle really be placed into action. Immigrants who speak out should be protected. They should not be targets for enforcement. If they are in detention and they are protesting the conditions of detention, they absolutely should be released. It’s important for the entire American public to know what’s really happening in our immigration system. And if immigrants can be silenced for speaking out about their experiences, that will never happen. So this is really important not only for immigrant communities but for our entire country and for really protecting the values of our democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jean, congratulations. Welcome home. Jean Montrevil, Haitian immigrant and activist, and Alina Das, Jean’s lawyer and co-director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at NYU School of Law.

That does it for our show. Special thanks to Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud. I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe. Wear a mask.

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