Pubdate: Fri, 15 Jan 2010
Source: New York Times (NY)
Page: A22
Copyright: 2010 The New York Times Company
Author: Kirk Semple
Cited: The New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City
Cited: Families for Freedom
Cited: Immigration and Customs Enforcement


Against the backdrop of the earthquake in Haiti, dozens of protesters
gathered outside a Greenwich Village detention center on Thursday to
demand the release of Jean Montrevil, a Haitian immigrant rights
advocate and a community leader in New York who has been detained
since December while awaiting deportation.

The rally came a week after two other demonstrations for Mr. Montrevil
led to the arrests of 19 people, many of them clergy members, who
blocked traffic in an effort to step up their pressure on federal
authorities and draw more attention to their cause. Organizers said
the protests appeared to be the first time in recent years that local
immigration demonstrators had turned to civil disobedience.

On Thursday, however, the organizers said they toned down their
protest out of respect for the suffering in Haiti and throughout the
Haitian diaspora, and temporarily suspended their civil

"We plan on using that tactic as we move forward," said Angad Bhalla
of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, one of the groups
that organized the protests outside the Varick Federal Detention
Facility. "But today didn't seem to be the right day to do it."

The protesters have cast Mr. Montrevil, 41, as a symbol of the flaws
in the immigration system and of the need for comprehensive reform.

Mr. Montrevil entered the country in 1986 as a legal permanent
resident. He was convicted of selling cocaine in 1990, at the age of
21. After 11 years in prison, he was released.

Mr. Montrevil started a van service, married an American woman and
became a respected member of the Haitian community in New York, his
supporters say. He is the father of four children.

But under immigration laws enacted in 1996, all noncitizens convicted
of felonies are subject to deportation. And on Dec. 30, 2009, during
Mr. Montrevil's regular weekly check-in with immigration officials as
part of a supervised release program for deportable immigrants, he was
detained. His lawyer, Joshua E. Bardavid, said the authorities had
given no explanation about why they were detaining his client after so
many years.

Mr. Montrevil is now in a detention center in York County, Pa. On
Wednesday, after the earthquake struck, federal authorities
temporarily suspended deportations to Haiti. Mr. Bardavid said he
believed that case law dictated that Mr. Montrevil be released until
deportations were resumed, and vowed to sue the government if necessary.

On Thursday, protesters argued that immigration laws did not make
allowances for Mr. Montrevil's rehabilitation and contributions to the

"Why are we sentencing his kids to not having a father?" Mr. Bhalla
said, as about 70 demonstrators gathered at the Varick Street
detention center. (They chose the jail as a symbol of the detention
system, but later Thursday, federal immigration officials announced
that they would close the center, in part because it lacked access to
open-air recreation.)

Some protesters carried signs that said, "Bring Jean Home," and sang
spirituals. Among the group was Mr. Montrevil's wife, Jani, who said
she had spoken to her husband almost daily since he was detained last

They last spoke on Wednesday evening, she said, and news of the
earthquake left him shocked and relieved. Mrs. Montrevil said that her
husband was supposed to have been deported within a few days of his
detention in December. Had he been sent to Haiti, she said, "he
could've been dead."

Mrs. Montrevil added, "I could've been a widow today."

Protest organizers said they would engage in acts of civil
disobedience in future protests.

"It attests to a scale-up in the intensity of the movement," said
Janis Rosheuvel, director of Families for Freedom, a New York-based
organization that lobbies on behalf of people facing deportation. The
strategy fits in with a shift in tactics among advocates across the
country who are pushing for a comprehensive immigration overhaul.

A group of immigrant students are on a four-month-long trek from Miami
to Washington to press the Obama administration to move faster on
immigration changes. Other activists have used tactics like a hunger
strike and a mass conference call in which 60,000 people heard a
proposal to overhaul immigration by Representative Luis V. Gutierrez,
Democrat of Illinois. Mr. Gutierrez introduced an immigration bill in
the House last month. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake