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NY Times on Jean Montrevil’s release: Close Call for Haitian in an Immigration Web

January 24, 2010

Colin Moynihan writes in the New York Times:

A day after being released from federal custody in Pennsylvania, a Haitian immigrant whose detention in December touched off protests told supporters at a Manhattan church on Sunday that he was so close to being deported this month that friends were waiting for him at the airport in Port-au-Prince.

The immigrant, Jean Montrevil, said that on Jan. 6, he and dozens of Haitian and Dominican detainees were taken to the gymnasium of the detention center in York, Pa., for a journey that, for him, was supposed to end in the Haitian capital.

Their departure was suddenly canceled, he said, when the authorities realized that one of the other Haitians had a fever. Less than a week later, Mr. Montrevil was watching televised images of the destruction wrought by the earthquake in Haiti.

“I could’ve been there,” he told a crowd of more than 100 people at the Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square. “I could’ve been dead.”

The congregants welcomed the return of Mr. Montrevil, a member of the church and someone whom advocates have described as a symbol of both personal rehabilitation and flaws in the immigration system.

Mr. Montrevil, a father of four, was 21 and a legal resident in 1990 when he was convicted of selling cocaine and began an 11-year prison sentence. After his release he became, by all accounts, a solid citizen. He married an American woman and now owns a van service in Brooklyn.

A law passed in 1996 made noncitizens convicted of felonies subject to deportation. Mr. Montrevil was ordered deported in 1994, while still in prison. After his release he became part of a supervised program for deportable immigrants. He had to check in with immigration agents regularly, and when he showed up for what he thought was a routine appearance on Dec. 30, he was detained and sent to York.

After federal officials announced that they were suspending deportations to Haiti because of the earthquake, Mr. Montrevil’s lawyer, Joshua E. Bardavid, said he began negotiating for his client’s release, arguing that since he was not a flight risk or dangerous to others, the law barred him from being held unless deportation was imminent.

Mr. Bardavid said that on Thursday he filed a writ of habeus corpus with a federal court in Pennsylvania. On Saturday, Mr. Montrevil said, agents there drove him to New York, where he was released.

Mr. Bardavid said he did not know why Mr. Montrevil was detained. He has a 10 p.m. curfew and cannot leave the metropolitan area for more than 48 hours at a time. Mr. Bardavid added that he hoped to eventually get a judge to rule anew on the deportation, taking into account Mr. Montrevil’s rehabilitation.

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees immigration, did not immediately respond to questions about the case.

Members of the church and of an advocacy group, the New Sanctuary Coalition, had sought to call attention to Mr. Montrevil’s case with three demonstrations early this month outside the Varick detention jail in TriBeCa.

Mr. Montrevil told the crowd that he was deeply grateful for that support.

“I can’t thank you enough,” he said.

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