Police issue instructions to protestors at New York City's Varick Street Immigrant Detention Center. Pictured (l-to-r) are Donna Schaper, Juan Carlos Ruiz de Dios, Susan Julia, Michael Ellick, Michelle Fei, Mark Marsh, Lulu Fogarty, Lenny Fox and Michael Caine.
Four clergy and six community leaders were arrested January 5 after stopping traffic for a half hour at a rally attended by over one hundred people outside the Varick Street Immigrant Detention Center. Four lay leaders from Judson Memorial UCC and four UCC clergy were among those arrested.
Blocking vans transporting new immigrant detainees to the center, the participants called for the release of detained immigrant rights leader, and father of four US-born children, Jean Montrevil. They also demanded reform of immigration laws that lead to the separation of families.
The Rev. Donna Schaper of New York City's Judson Memorial UCC, where Montrevil's family worships, said, "I am being arrested because it is a moral outrage that our government would do this to such a great man and father. These immigration laws that destroy families contradict the values we should uphold as a society. They need to change now."
Other UCC clergy arrested include the Rev. Michael Ellick, associate minister at Judson Memorial UCC, the Rev. Michael Cain, pastor of Old First Reformed UCC in Philadelphia, and the Rev. Mark Marsh, pastor of Victoria Congregational UCC in Queens, N.Y. Lulu Fogarty, Len Fox, Susan Julia and Paul Thorsen, lay members of Judson Memorial UCC, were also arrested along with Michelle Fei of the Immigrant Defense Network and Juan Carlos Ruiz, a Catholic community leader.
|Michael Caine being arrested during the protest.
Photo Tom Martinez
"Ours is a faith based on forgiveness and second chances," said Caine. "No one denies that Jean made some mistakes as a young man. But he served the sentence that the U.S. legal system deigned his due, and now has served as a national leader for immigration reform and human rights."
Montrevil entered the U.S. from Haiti in 1986 as a legal permanent resident. Homeland Security is trying to de-legalize him for a 1989 drug conviction, for which Montrevil already served 11 years. He has kept a clean record ever since, taking over his family's religious goods business and providing a transport service to families.
Detained December 30 during a routine check-in, Montrevil has been held in Pennsylvania's York County Prison where he has begun a hunger strike. "I am fasting side-by-side with nearly 60 others to take a stand against this horrific deportation and detention system that is tearing families apart," he explains.
"Our son keeps calling Jean's cell phone, hoping daddy will pick up. He asks me, 'Why are they pretending daddy is bad, so he will go back to Haiti?' " says Jani Montrevil. "Jean made mistakes before we started building a family together. Homeland Security wants to turn me into a single mother."
As a community leader, Montrevil became a national spokesperson for the Child Citizen Protection Act (H.R. 182), a House proposal that would bring due process into the deportation system by allowing immigration judges to consider the best interests of American children before deporting a parent. The proposal is part of Representative Luis Gutierrez's (D-Ill.) recently introduced bill, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act (H.R. 4321).
"Jean Montrevil's case is precisely why we need to see the provisions of the Child Citizen Protection Act passed into law - ideally as part of comprehensive immigration reform. We cannot continue to allow inflexible deportation guidelines to separate families with U.S. citizen children," said Congressman José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) "I commend all those fighting on Jean's behalf, and look forward to a successful resolution of this sad case, and a day when there is more humaneness in our nation's immigration laws."
Montrevil has received support from many elected officials along with Serrano author of H.R. 182, including U.S. Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Nydia Velasquez (D-N.Y.), (all three are cosponsors of H.R. 4321); NY State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick; and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.
In a letter supporting Montrevil's request to ICE for deferred action, Rep. Velazquez writes, "My office believes that his deportation will be a disproportionate punishment to him, his family and his community."
The General Synod of the UCC has issued pronouncements and passed resolutions calling for the humane treatment of immigrants, especially as it relates to the unification of families and the rights of workers.