Losing a loved one: Jahsiah’s Dad is ripped away

Jahsiah Montrevil, 14, seen in an earlier photo when he was younger, with his father, Jean Montrevil, has depended on his dad all his life.

BY KEEN BERGER | “I’m not worried about me,” said Jean Montrevil from his New Jersey prison cell. Barring a miracle, he will soon be in a Haitian jail. “I am worried about my children.”

He is right to worry. His 14-year-old son, Jahsiah, has shut down, withdrawing from his French class at Brooklyn Tech — a class he loved. Jahsiah refused to leave home; his sleep is troubled. He checks all night for new signatures on his petition to “help to release my father from detainment before it is too late because no one should have to suffer the pain of losing a loved one to deportation.” It gathered 5,000 signatures in two days; he hopes that if it reaches 10,000, his dad might come back. Jean is 49 years old. He married a U.S. citizen, and fathered three children, now ages 18, 14 and 10. They were born long after his conviction in 1986 for cocaine possession with intent to sell, a crime for which he served 10 years in prison, then five years of parole. His green card was taken, making him deportable.

His oldest daughter, a freshman in Mercy College, also has trouble concentrating. His youngest daughter spoke at a rally on Jan. 5, attended by Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, state Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Deborah Glick. Actually, the child did not speak: She came to the microphone, but no words came out. Tears on her cold cheeks — it was 15 degrees — were her message.

Jean’s pending case before the Board of Immigration Appeals did not stop ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) from surrounding him on the sidewalk outside his home in Far Rockaway on Jan. 3, two weeks before he would next come to them, at 26 Federal Plaza, in Manhattan.

For 20 years, Jean has appeared every time ICE demanded, even when he was shackled and had to check-in three times a week. For decades he paid taxes and obeyed the law. He is a vital, admired member of my church and a crucial support for his children, not only emotionally (they spent this New Year’s Eve together) but also financially — including paying some college costs for his oldest daughter.

Why did ICE pick him up? Not for any crime. As Micah Bucey, minister of Judson Church said, “This case is crazy. There’s no reason for this person to be locked up. He always goes to his check-ins.”

The reason might be because Jean and Ravi Ragbir (also detained last week) are leaders in the New Sanctuary Coalition movement. Reverend Bucey also said, “The powers that be think they’ve chopped off two of our most important limbs this week, and they have — for now. But…countless loud and brave tendrils are already growing from these wounds.”

I am with Jean. I am not worried about him or even about New Sanctuary. I am worried about the children.

My profession is development psychology. I am a professor at Bronx Community College and I write textbooks, now bestsellers worldwide, in five languages. I know that, throughout all of human history, families are the reason homo sapiens thrived, in floods, fire and ice, while other species died. We are the only species to thrive on every continent; father protection is one reason.

Families always care for each other. That is what my grandparents did. They were immigrants and proud Americans before any laws stopped their escape from poverty and persecution, settling where they could to raise a family.

Before the past decade, has the United States ever ignored family bonds? Never for immigrants. Only for slaves. We still suffer from that.

How bad is it, really, for a child to be without a parent? Very bad.

Developmental psychologists know three examples well.

District Leader Keen Berger served as a legal observer — keeping an eye on police actions against protesters — last Thursday when Ravi Ragbir was detained by immigration officials at his scheduled check-in. Ragbir had gone in suspecting he might be detained. Photo by Tequila Minsky

In the early 20th century, if a child needed hospital care, parents were kept away because they might bring germs. But many sick children died, and survivors were emotionally impaired. Today, if your child is in the hospital, you stay by your child: Needless deaths taught us that.

In England during World War II, a massive, well-intentioned campaign to save the children led to the evacuation of thousands of London children to the peaceful countryside, safe, without their parents. Some fathers and mothers, against government policy, kept their children in London. The daily bombs and fires did not faze the children if their parents were nearby; those sent to the quiet rural towns suffered for decades. 

In the 1980s, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausesçu forbade birth control and abortions, paying poor women for each birth. More than 100,000 children were abandoned to crowded, impersonal, state-run orphanages. In the two years after Ceausesçu was ousted and killed in 1989, thousands of those children were adopted by North Americans. Skinny infants gained weight and grew faster than other 1-year-olds; toddlers learned to walk, climb and run; older children began to talk in sentences. However, many became too friendly to strangers, or slow to learn, or depressed, angry, self-destructive. 

There is hope. The human spirit endures. The mother of Jean’s children is fiercely dedicated to them. She might succeed: Some of those British and Romanian children became well-functioning adults.

The hospital doctors, the British parliament and even the Romanian orphanage caregivers did not intend to harm; they did not anticipate the consequences. But now every psychologist knows that depriving a child of a father he has loved is cruel and evil. Why don’t immigration authorities know that?

Postcript: Jean Montrevil was deported to Haiti and has since done interviews with “Democracy Now!” among others.

Berger is a professor in the Social Sciences Department, Bronx Community College; author of “The Developing Person Through the Lifespan” (first through 10th editions); and Greenwich Village Democratic district leader, 66th Assembly District, Part A

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