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Reform, Repeal, Release: The Mantra for Caribbean Immigrants in the Months Ahead

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As the Obama administration drags its feet on promises of immigration reform, a Caribbean immigrant continues his hunger strike in a detention facility in Pennsylvania. But this afternoon at Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan, his wife's strident calls for his release could be heard all the way in Washington, D.C.

Almost one year ago to date, President Obama made bold pledges for immigration reform. Today, in fifty cities across the nation, his constituents are holding his feet to the fire. The event is part of a fifty-state mobilization this week by Reform Immigration for America Campaign, a broad based national effort to fix the broken immigration system through reform legislation. The participating organizations were as diverse as the immigrant community itself - African Services Committee; El Centro del Inmigrante; Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society Young Leaders Program; Hudson Valley Community Coalition; Minkwon Center for Community Action; and the Sikh Coalition, among others.

Jani Montrevil, wife of detained Haitian immigrant Jean Montrevil, addressed the audience at Manhattan's Judson Memorial Church. Ms. Montrevil spoke about how her life, and that of her family, has changed since her husband was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on December 30th. Jean and Jani Montrevil lived with their four children in Brooklyn, where Jean ran a small business with a staff of about twelve employees. They were looking forward to purchasing their first home. But that dream has been put on hold indefinitely, given ICE's attempts to deport Mr. Montrevil to Haiti, the country of his birth, based on a drug conviction dating back to 1989. Mr. Montrevil served out his sentence and, since then, has never been in trouble with the law. Following Mr. Montrevil's detention on December 30, supporters have organized rallies and held vigils. On January 5, 2010 eight clergy were arrested outside Varick Street Detention Center. Supporters have co-ordinated an online petition calling for Mr. Montrevil's release.

During times of economic hardship, it is easy to play the blame game and immigrants can easily be made into scapegoats - unnecessarily so. A report released by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli reveals that in 2008, immigrants accounted for nearly one-third of all economic activity in the city, which totals about $215 billion. In 2007, the median household income of the city's immigrants stood at $45,000 as compared to $23,900 in 1990. As a result of the growth in income, by 2008, about 60 percent of all homeowners were foreign born.

Jean Montrevil's case may be the most visible, but it is certainly not unique. Many more Caribbean immigrants find themselves in "detention limbo" awaiting deportation. But in the months ahead, the mantra in the Caribbean community should be, "Reform, Repeal, Release". That is, reform of the immigration system, repeal of draconian provisions of the laws, and release of immigrants for whom the laws have had a disparate impact.

Arlene M. Roberts is the author of The Faces of Detention and Deportation: A Report on the Forced Repatriation of Immigrants from the English-Speaking Caribbean.