January 8th, 2010
11:29 PM ET

What happens when the wrong people get deported

Editor's note: Peter Bregman is chief executive of Bregman Partners Inc., a global management consulting firm, and the author of "Point B: A Short Guide to Leading a Big Change." He writes a weekly column, How We Work, for The Harvard Business Review.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/01/07/art.jean.jpg caption="Jean Montrevil and the youngest of his four children, Jamya."]

Peter Bregman
Special to AC360°

When 11 Christian clergy get arrested in New York City for a non violent protest, it may be worth, at the very least, raising an eyebrow. But when 1,300 petitioners and 50 organizations, including the New Sanctuary Movement and Families for Freedom, join in supporting their cause, well, it deserves more attention than an eyebrow. What is it that’s making all these peaceful people and organizations so upset?

To understand that, you need to meet Jean Montrevil, a green card holding resident of the U.S. since 1986. Only you can’t meet him. He’s being detained for deportation to Haiti.

Ah, you may be thinking, good. Maybe that’ll help protect our country from terrorism. After all, look at Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab the Nigerian citizen who was charged with trying to blow up a transcontinental airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day. Perhaps we should be glad that immigration officials are finally being a little more on top of things.

Only they’re not. Because Jean, like many others deported recently, is the wrong person. I’ve met Jean a few times and he’s a good guy. He’s married to a U.S. citizen and they have four children who are U.S. citizens. He runs a small business which employs others. He pays his taxes, supports his family, and is active in his church, Judson Memorial Church, which my wife also attends.

So why are they bothering with him? Because more than 20 years ago Jean was convicted on a drug charge in Virginia.

Oh, you might conclude, so he’s a criminal. Good thing we’re being protected from him. Actually, for that crime, Jean already served an incredible 11 years in prison. And beating the odds, after completing his sentence he didn’t emerge angry. He emerged productive. He’s been a valuable member of our society ever since, with a sparkling clean record.

Which should be the happy end of the story. But it’s not.

In 1996, as part of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, a law was passed that is tearing families apart: the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. There’s a retroactive provision in the law which allows the government to deport any non-US citizen (including people here legally, like Jean) who committed crimes even decades earlier.

So on December 30th, 2009 when Jean showed up for a routine check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agent whisked him off to Pennsylvania’s York County Prison, where he awaits deportation to Haiti as a “serious violent offender.” If this happens as planned in the next few days, Jean will be prohibited from coming back into this country, where his entire family lives, for the next 20 years.

So I have a simple question: Who is making decisions at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency?

They let Mr. AbdulMutallab a man whose name was on the terrorist watch list and whose own father warned us about him, retain his Visa to come into this country (with explosives as we later found out).

And now, a few days later, they are trying to deport Jean – whose name is nowhere near a terrorist watch list – for a crime he committed 24 years ago. Hello? Is there anyone out there?

So I went to the ICE website, to see. There I saw their annual reports where they boast year over year increases in the number of deportations they made in an attempt to justify their $5.7 billion budget. The latest available data from the Justice Department shows an estimated 14 percent increase in new immigration prosecutions between 2008 and 2009. That’s an increase of 139 percent from five years ago.

And if you think about it, Jean is an easy way to increase their numbers. After all, he shows up at ICE offices for regular check-ins, as requested. But why pick him up now? Why not at any of his previous check-ins? Perhaps he’s a pretty easy catch to make their numbers at the end of the year. Some operations shouldn’t be run like businesses.

ICE is focused on the wrong goal. Protecting our nation is not a numbers game.The real question is not how many people get deported. It's who gets deported.

Maybe the biggest problem with our terrorist watch list is that we're not watching it. Because we’re too busy watching people like Jean, who pose no threat at all.

Something is wrong with our system. And we won’t be able to fix it until real leaders – maybe President Obama, maybe Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) John Morton, maybe those 11 clergy who were arrested to bring Jean’s case to light, or maybe you or me – force sensible change.

Until that happens, we’re all at risk.

As I was finishing this piece I mentioned it to one of my employees, a woman born in the Dominican Republic who has had a green card for 38 years. Her husband has had one for 33 years. She gasped when she heard about Jean and then told me that a few months ago her husband received a letter in the mail from ICE telling him they were starting the deportation process for him, citing a crime he committed, and served time for, 28 years ago. They have children and grandchildren who are US citizens. Their son served in the US Navy.

Who will be next? As the German Pastor Martin Niemoller said in a famous speech right after World War II ended:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Human Rights • Immigration • Opinion
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. asmait

    nobody reports on this you people are more concerned about balon boy than the real issues this is crazy its innocent people are being deported for trying to make it specially hispanics this is crazy somebody needs to do something this people are not what they are made out to be. Deport real criminals please please you need to do more search on this issue and keep the ICE honest please Anderson please please this is driving the hispanic community crazy. They have no voice so be their voice Anderson Cooper they will thank you thier American Born CHILDREN will thank.

    November 14, 2010 at 1:40 am |
  2. Dennis Pence

    My queston is – why are you in this country this long and still not a citizen? This could have resolved the issue. That being said, government bureaucrats are not interested in justice, rehabilitation or anything other than what makes them look good. Sort of like a salesman meeting his quota at any price. I remember a prison inmate who rehabilitated herself here in Texas only to be executed. It is a good thing these government bureaucrats and politicians are not punished for their crimes against the American people. The prisons couldn't hold them all. As far as Jean being a lawabiding, taxpaying citizen, they could care less. Whatever they lose in revenue from him, they will take from us – then they will probably put his wife and children on government assistance (strengthing their hold on government) and costing the taxpayer more. If people cannot be rehabilitated, whey send them to prison – just execute them. We had better get some moral people in our government and the American people had better take a stand at the ballot box come September. If they could do it, they would deport Christians and white middle class males (that supposedly represent a threat to their way of life). God help us – if you put all of their collective wisdom together – it wouldn't make enough powder to blow your nose. Most of them are there because they can't make it in the real world. Crooks steal from you quite often without the use of a weapon – other than their position in government..

    January 8, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  3. Sirid K

    Don't just sign the petition, folks – tweet the story and the petition link! Mobilize the masses!

    January 8, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  4. Jane

    I know Jean. He is a kind and caring father and member of our church. The Sunday before he was deported he was a greeter, welcoming us to church with his usual smile and individualized greeting. He shares worship, meals, and work with us.

    This CNN article is accurate. Bregman's suggestion that the effort to raise ICE deportation numbers for the year led to the Jean's detention may be correct.Jean has dutifully appeared at all his check ins and has followed the rules. His case illustrates a very broken system. Thank you to this CNN blog for bringing Jean and his family to a wider audience. Your support is desperately and urgently needed for him and others in his situation.

    January 8, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
  5. ImaginePeace

    OMG–this is terrible...thanks for letting people know about this awful injustice!

    January 8, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  6. Julia Burgins

    This throughly is sickening! Our government is thinking they are doing things "correctly" by "getting rid" of who they think are the "problem". Did Christmas Day not teach them anything. I don't think so. Leave the good people alone, take the ones that are "the list".

    January 8, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  7. Lee

    It is very sad and unfortunate that this gentleman is caught in the 'flavor of the month' political issue. If the article is properly representing his case, the US will be no safer and will lose a productive member of our society once this gentleman is deported. While sad, it would appear that his past deeds and green-card status meet some governmental requirement that necessitates his deportation.

    There is always a sad story behind someone having the law applied to their situation, but the law is the law. I believe that the laws of every country are meant to be applied consistently to all people within that society, regardless of income, race, gender, immigration status, etc. It's unfortunate that he is being deported and that his family and community will be impacted by this action, but it does not warrant a circumvention of the law because of the far reaching impact it will have on him and his family. I feel it’s also unfortunate that people lose their jobs, get arrested for crimes they do not commit, do drugs, receive a cancer diagnosis and loose a loved one through the actions of another.

    Life simply is not setup to be 'fair' and regardless of the outcome, the law of the land must be unwavering and consistently applied.

    January 8, 2010 at 10:53 am |
  8. Sha Dishong

    If I didn't know that what is happening is horribly real, I would hardly
    be able to believe that something so senseless and cruel could
    be occuring. This is horrifying.

    January 8, 2010 at 10:28 am |
  9. Betsy

    Excellent piece. Well said!

    January 8, 2010 at 10:28 am |
  10. Tim Gibson

    Perhaps ICE should spend more time deporting those who are here illegally than those who are for the numbers chart to get their funding. Anyone see a need for that. It is not suppose to be a carnival where you pick the duck to win the prize. You have to find the duck to get the prize.

    January 8, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  11. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    This is truly sad and makes one wonder whose America is this. We must find a better way to control our immigration system but it's unclear to me why after 20+ years people don't apply for citizenship.

    January 8, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  12. Charles Outcalt

    Extremely powerful and important piece. Kudos to CNN for having the guts to publish it.

    January 8, 2010 at 10:02 am |
  13. Susan, FL + IL

    I just went to the ICE web site.....it is very informative. I pretty much agree with the direction they are going. I should have gone to the ICE site before making the above comment.

    This ICE procedure makes sense to me....

    "The most dangerous criminal aliens are individuals who have been previously convicted of or who are currently charged with a Level 1 offense—national security, homicide, kidnapping, assault, robbery, sex offenses and narcotics crimes that carry a sentence of greater than one year.By prioritizing immigration enforcement actions on the most dangerous criminals, ICE uses its resources judiciously. The Secure Communities plan enables ICE to strengthen public safety while reducing disruption to law-abiding immigrant families and communities."

    January 8, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  14. Susan, FL + IL

    I have had that happen to a friend of mine from Argentina. By doing the right thing, he reported into ICE for his appointment and he was never allowed to leave the building nor to return to his life here in the U.S. He was shipped off to a holding place for one month, then shipped back to Argentina.

    What about the people who do not do the right thing....like reporting in to ICE.....nothing is done to them.....as they just disappear into this melting-pot.

    We need to do something about the Immigration problem in this country. If one has been living here for several years.......we need to look into their life and criminal history.....and if they are clean then we need to make them citizens of the U.S.

    We need to do what Regan did in the 1980's......called them all forward and make them citizens of the U.S. without asking any questions.

    January 8, 2010 at 9:33 am |

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