New York immigration activists — including those who fight against deportations that break up families — are holding a vigil Tuesday for one of their own. Jean Montrevil, a founder of the local branch of the New Sanctuary Coalition and a legal U.S. resident born in Haiti, was detained by immigration authorities on Dec. 30 during one of his monthly check-ins and is now awaiting deportation at a York, Pa., jail.
Montrevil has started a hunger strike at the detention center “with nearly 60 other detainees to take a stand against this horrific deportation and detention system that is tearing families apart,” he said in a statement released by his organization.
On Tuesday at 12:30 pm, Montrevil’s family, activists and religious leaders will gather outside the Varick Federal Detention Facility in the West Village in Manhattan to demand his release.
Montrevil’s detention and possible expulsion were not unexpected. He has had a deportation order hanging over his head at least since 2005, according to a 2007 USA Today article. The order springs from his conviction in 1989 for a drug crime, for which he served 11 years in prison. In news accounts of his travails, Montrevil narrated how he emerged from jail a reformed man, married Jani and had four kids, became an entrepreneur and an anti-deportation activist.
The New Sanctuary Coalition and other local groups, like Families for Freedom, have long fought against a set of provisions passed by Congress in 1996 that allow for cases like Montrevil’s to take place. The law says permanent U.S. residents must be deported if they committed crimes, no matter when they occurred and whether they served time for them.
“Jean represents all that is right about our nation and wrong with the deportation system,” Rev. Bob Coleman of Riverside Church, a leader of the Sanctuary Movement, said in a press release.
“He made a mistake. He paid his time. He represents a restored life. Who benefits by stripping him of his legal status?”
According to the release, Montrevil educated thousands of parishioners and others about the deportation rules that now have him on the edge of being sent back to Haiti, which he left in 1986.
Montrevil became a spokesperson in favor of the Child Citizen Protection Act, a House bill which would allow immigration judges to “consider the best interests of American children before deporting a parent,” the release said, adding the proposal is included in Rep. Luis Gutierrez’s CIR ASAP immigration reform bill.
“Jean made mistakes as a teenager,” Montrevil’s wife Janay said in the release, “but that was more than a decade before we started building our family. Our youngest woke up this morning, looking all over for his father. How do you tell a 2-year-old, ‘Daddy’s gone forever?’”