By Grace Goodman
Last Tuesday, April 18, 2023, in a courtroom filled with nervous family and friends, Haitian immigrant Jean Montrevil testified about his 30-year fight to stay with his four US-citizen children in the United States. When the immigration judge, Hon. Kyle Dandelet, announced his verdict: “I grant your application,” the courtroom erupted in applause, and when the fact of his win sank in a few seconds later, Jean himself broke down in tears of relief and joy.
Jean’s testimony revealed that in 1986, he was legally brought to the US by his father and had a green card permitting him to work. As a black teenager seeking a job, Jean found the best money was in driving drug sellers to their clients, though he himself never used drugs. In 1988-89, he and his passengers were arrested and later convicted on charges of possessing drugs with intent to distribute, first in New Jersey and then in Virginia. Jean served 11 years in prison, where he learned English, earned his GED, and was released early for good behavior in 2000. Then ICE started trying to deport him as a convicted felon.
In 1994, Jean had applied for a “waiver of deportation” under a law that allowed legal residents who had served five years on their criminal sentences to show that they were now reformed and of good character, but a series of glitches by the judge resulted in denial. When Jean appealed, the law had changed and though the appellate court agreed the trial had been flawed, it said it had to deny the appeal.
Tuesday’s case was the final step in ongoing efforts over the years by Jean’s lawyers, first Joshua Bardavid and now the NYU Law School’s Immigration Clinic headed by Prof. Alina Das, to reverse that denial and cancel Jean’s deportation order. They argued successfully that the appellate court had wrongly applied the new law retroactively, since the convictions that justified deportation had occurred before the law was changed. Tuesday’s hearing finally gave Jean his day in court to show that his good character should let him stay legally in the United States. His testimony, and that of his son Jasiah Montrevil (one of Jean’s four US-born citizen children), proved convincing.
In his testimony, Jean credited Judson Memorial Church for its support over the years since 2007 – support he said was essential to making him the “good man, not a man defined by his crimes” that Judge Dandelet acknowledged at the end of the hearing. Judson clergy and members accompanied him to ICE check-ins all these years, keeping up his morale and constantly lobbying on his behalf. In 2018, ICE swooped Jean up and deported him to Haiti, but Judson kept working to get him returned. In 2021, Governor Northam was convinced to pardon Jean’s Virginia charge, thus removing the main reason for his deportation. ICE was convinced by continued community pressure to return Jean to NYC to try to cancel the deportation order left over from his other criminal charge.
On April 18, 2023, surrounded by as many of his Judson friends could cram into the small courtroom, he won! One of those Judson friends, Keen Berger, the immediate past Moderator (president) of the Judson congregation, wrote to the congregation:
“As someone who was there in the beginning, when Jean first joined us, I am a grateful witness to miracles. Twice the conventional wisdom was that we lost him, and twice – via an earthquake [that prevented Jean’s deportation in 2010] and a pardon that people said we could never get from Virginia – the power of Jean, Judson, and God brought him back to us.
Today was a celebration – and a reason we all need to fight against the cruelty of our nation’s immigration stance. Gratitude and fortitude!”
Judson Church currently works with a network of Mutual Aid groups in churches throughout NYC to help the immigrants being bussed to NYC from the border. Judson opens its Assembly Hall (239 Thompson St.) for up to 100 immigrants at a time on Mondays, to get clothes, food, legal and health advice, and to gather with each other for companionship. The program is facilitated by Rev. Micah Bucey, Minister, and the church’s Immigration Task Force volunteers.
Jean Montrevil with some of his Judson friends. Photo credit: John Chang
Jean Montrevil and some of his family. Photo credit: John Chang
The legal team from NYU Law Immigration Clinic with Jean Montrevil; Prof. Alina Das, far right. Photo credit: John Chang