By Donna Schaper
Ever Feel like you can’t do anything good? You can.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
Send this article to Virginia from the Village you Love.
Jean Montrevil was deported, abruptly, picked up outside his home, while heading to work on January 16, 2018. He had been detained before, ten years earlier in Haiti, and the uncanny Haitian earthquake saved him. Where were they going to put people in Haiti that day?
When he was to leave any day, by plane, from a detention center in Pennsylvania, the plane didn’t go. But a miracle happened. He showed up on the front steps of Judson Church, much to our surprise, during a time when we were praying for our failure to keep him. There he was, with nothing but a plastic bag in his hands.
ICE wanted Jean for some reason. They knew his power as a leader and a friend, the kind of man who owns a van business but will move people’s stuff for whatever they could pay. He was the kind of man who loved to bring rice and peas or squash soup to church potlucks, the kind of man who shipped enormous boxes of clothing and food to Haiti every Christmas and every Easter, the kind of man who looked really good in designer jeans (like the pair I took from his Florida detention center three days before they finally did deport him two years ago). “Give the jeans to somebody who can use them,” he said. I carried them out in an oranges bag, the kind where you can see through the orange-colored plastic striations.
ICE must have seen his personal power. Why else would they pick him out, and abruptly take him away? Jean shared his story and the cruelty of ICE when few were willing to do so. They told him to lay low. And when he could not stay silent, his activism left a target on his back. They deported Jean to set an example. We won’t let them. They want to silence Jean but instead they’ve only sparked a larger movement and our voices are louder than ever. ICE cannot deport a movement.
We are going to bring Jean home to hold ICE accountable, and to unite him with his children and faith community. His kids are suffering; travel and communication are difficult and they need their father here. And Jean is suffering too; the extreme instability in Haiti means he is effectively housebound, frequently cut off from communication with his loved ones.
Jean came into ICE’s crosshairs because of a broken criminal legal system. He came to the US at age seventeen as a lawful permanent resident. He served his time for arrests as a young man more than thirty years ago, but was still subject to a deportation order after that. His deportation was a double punishment. When I went to visit him in Haiti a year ago, he asked that I bring the kind of toothpaste that people use for sensitive gums. I filled up my suitcase with it. He must be allowed to return. If we got him back, we wouldn’t have to do something small and silly and funny-feeling, like sending toothpaste to Haiti. If we got him back, and we ever needed someone to help us move, we could call Jean, and he would show up with his van.
We are asking for the governors of Virginia and New York to pardon him and pave a path for Jean to be a lawful permanent resident again. Can you write a letter to the governor of New York? Do you know someone in Virginia? Can you send this to them so they can write their own letter urging the governor of Virginia to pardon Jean? We need to do this for Jean and for ourselves.
You have a chance to be involved with an act of mercy. Write a letter for Jean. Get someone in Virginia to be Santa Claus.