Friday, January 5, 2018


CUNY students and supporters rising and resisting for Jean!

 U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler says Free Jean Now!

Jean Montrevil speaking outside the ICE detention center Varick Street, New York, NY on January 26, 2010.
Source: Photograph by Mizue Aizeki.

I see Jean most every Sunday at Church.  He's often there passing the collection plate or sharing coffee.  He's a part of my community.  After service, we usually go back home with our families, enjoying the quiet moments of just being alive. That's the way its supposed to be and usually is.  But not always. 

Jean is  an organizer.  

So when he's hurt, everyone knows it. 

That's just part of being part of a community.  We look out for each other. 

On January 3, Jean Montrevil, was picked up by ICE on Wednesday, January 3, near his home in Far Rockaway, New York.  He is being held in detention at Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark. Jean’s lawyer has been in contact with ICE. The supervisor in charge said that "he did not know" that Montrevil has a motion pending before the Board of Immigration Appeals. As such a motion is indeed pending, we are strongly optimistic that Jean will be released shortly. Jean is a professional driver with his own business. He survived the tremendous impact of Sandy -- He can survive this also.

Nevertheless, and in great hope that ICE will do the right thing, members of Judson Memorial Church, Jean's family and children, elected leaders, Faith Leaders, the New Sanctuary Coalition, and community members held a prayer vigil and rally in front of the Varick Street Detention Center at 11 a.m. on Friday January 5th, at 201 Varick Street (corner of Houston St.) in downtown Manhattan.

Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper, Jean's pastor, said, "We are astonished that Jean would be picked up two weeks before his regular check-in.  Jean has been faithfully checking in for nearly a decade.  Why would ICE be aggressive towards him now?"

Jane Treuhold, Chair of the Judson Immigration Task Force, said, “We remain confident that Jean will be released.  It would be an abomination of injustice for him not be released immediately."

Rev. Juan Carlos Ruiz of the New Sanctuary Coalition says, "Jean has been our friend and the advocate of so many others for so long.  If he is detained or deported, the loss will be felt far and wide and affect not just his four children but also his vast entire community."

So I rode my bike through nine degree temperatures to get to the action. Members of my faith community at Judson, as well as organizers from CUNY to Rise and Resist were on hand.

"I am more of an atheist but this administration is helping me to believe in the devil," noted legendary organizer Jenny Heinz of Rise and Resist.

Micah Bucey of Judson was on hand, along with teary eyed members of the congregation. 
We held a Jericho Walk, marching and praying in silence around the anonymous building.

Jean's family spoke.  His daughter held a picture of the father she's now separated. 

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler suggested that there has to be a better way, a way which supports the law and a bit of humanity. But it may not be possible with this administration. 

But we're not forgetting.  We'll be back. 

This is not the first time this has happened to Jean.  I wrote about him in my book Community Projects as Social Activism.

The community responds and supports one if its own, using every tool in the book, from marching bands and performances, church service, worship, and civil disobedience. Members of the Judson Memorial Congregation, including Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper, rallying, getting arrested, singing, and collaborating  with artists of the Rude Mechanical Orchestra and Dan Zanes to set Jean Free. Source: Photograph by Mizue Aizeki; used with permission of the New Sanctuary Movement

Jean Montrevil is a Haitian immigrant living in New York City. On the morning of December 30, 2009, at a routine check with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Montrevil was detained for deportation to Haiti. This occurred despite the fact that Montrevil had been a legal immigrant in the United States since 1986, was the husband of a U.S. citizen, and the father of four children, each a U.S. citizen. The government’s actions stemmed from a 20-year-old conviction, for which he had long since served his sentence. These actions became the latest flare-up in a generations-old controversy over the rightful role of immigrants and outsiders in U.S. life (Sen, 2008). What the ICE agents did not count on was how connected Montrevil was to his church and community in New York City. A longtime community activist, Montrevil is a leader in a variety of immigrant rights groups, including Families for Freedom, the NYC New Sanctuary Movement (NY NSC), and Detention Watch Network. In his fight for justice on behalf of all immigrants, Mr. Montrevil has gained the support of U.S. Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Nydia Velasquez, and New York State Senator Thomas K. Duane. On word of his detention, Montrevil’s family and friends and immigration activists around the country immediately got the word out about what had happened by writing letters, leading sermons, and mobilizing supporters. In other words, they started organizing. The NYC New Sanctuary Coalition immediately called for an emergency vigil at 6 p.m. outside the Varick Street ICE Detention Center at Varick and Houston Streets, which ended with a procession to Judson Memorial Church for a service where they demanded that Mr. Montrevil be released and that ICE stop separating families and communities. Mr. Montrevil’s wife and children as well as friends were present at the service. Inside a detention center far from home, Montrevil joined a hunger strike with other immigration detainees in York, Pennsylvania. “I am fasting side by side with nearly 60 other detainees to take a stand against this horrific deportation and detention system that is tearing families apart,” Montrevil reported. Churches around New York helped get the word out about the situation. Clergy and politicians demanded Montrevil’s immediate release and called for reform to the immigration laws, organizing an action. “Free Jean” became a battle-cry. Throughout the week, the coalition speaking up about Montrevil expanded. Prominent clergy and elected officials called on the federal government to return him to his wife Janay and their children. “Jean represents all that is right about our nation and wrong with the deportation system,” argued Rev. Bob Coleman of the historic Riverside Church and a leader of New York’s New Sanctuary Movement. “He made a mistake. He paid his time. He represents a restored life. Who benefits by stripping him of his legal status?” Montrevil entered the United States from Haiti in 1986 as a legal permanent resident. Following Montrevil’s detention on December 30, 2009, hundreds of supporters across the country called David Venturella, Acting Director of ICE’s Office of Detention and Removal Operations, urging Montrevil’s release and the suspension of his deportation. “Contrary to the claims of ICE leadership that the agency will be transparent and accountable in its implementation of immigration laws, it has not responded to Montrevil or his attorney Joshua Bardavid,” said Andrea Black, director of the Detention Watch Network. “There is no excuse for their silence.” “Jean has been nothing less than an inspiration. His work on behalf of immigrants being torn from their families across the country has been prophetic,” explained the Reverend Donna Schaper of Judson Memorial Church, where Montrevil worships. “On Tuesday at 12:30 pm, I will join other people of faith at 201 Varick Street, the detention center in New York, and demand that ICE respond to us. We will no longer accept silence as an answer.” She was not alone. 
January 5, 2010, at 12:30 pm, clergy and parishioners from Jean’s church converged outside of New York’s Varick Street Detention Center. Singer Dan Zanes was on hand to add a little cultural resistance to the mix. Singing the classic resistance folk song “We Shall Not Be Moved,” elders blocked new detainees from entering the center, leading to the arrest of eight clergy. “I am being arrested because it is a moral outrage that our government would do this to such a great man and father,” declared Rev. Schaper. “These immigration laws that destroy families contradict the values we should uphold as a society. They need to change now.” Throughout the day, local television showed a loop of the members of the congregation speaking up about Montrevil’s situation (Edroso, 2010; NY1, 2010). And the campaign escalated. On January 14, the coalition held another rally, attended by elected representatives from the New York state legislature as well as other supporters. Many carried signs declaring, “Keep our Families Together.” Rev. Michael Ellick, a pastor at Judson Memorial Church, stated: “It is outrageous that ICE is trying to tear this good man from his children at this holiday season. We will not rest until Jean is released and returned to his family and until immigration agents stop tearing our families and communities apart.” The New York Times
 covered the direct action, propelling Montrevil’s story into an international story of a church fighting an injustice with freedom songs and acts of civil disobedience harkening back to another era (Semple, 2010). Within a week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security dropped Montrevil off in front of Judson. The following Sunday he told his story. As he rose to speak, the congregation gave him a standing ovation. Rev. Ellick would later say the campaign was his first miracle at Judson.

An icy day in NYC. 

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