By TOMI L. WILEYSpecial to The Wilson Post
MT. JULIET -- The wife of a Mt. Juliet man who was taken from his home and who could be deported any day said Tuesday that their family had hoped he could minister and share his story as a precautionary tale, but this was not the path they’d hoped to take.
On the morning of Sunday, May 17, as the family prepared to attend Grace United Methodist Church, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials entered the home of Chris and Jean Holness of Mt. Juliet, Jean said. The ICE officials took Chris into custody, where he remains awaiting deportation to his native Jamaica. Jean said Tuesday that her husband was scheduled to be moved to a Federal detention center in Oakdale, La., that day. It’s his last stop, Jean said, before he leaves the country.
According to Jean, Chris was born in Jamaica in October 1965. He moved with his mother to Miami, Fla., in 1978 at age 12. From 1987 to 1991, Chris struggled with an addiction to crack cocaine. He was arrested several times for drug paraphernalia, driving on a suspended license, possession of marijuana and armed robbery of convenient stores between 1987 and 1991. Chris was sentenced to two years in prison for a felony due to drugs. He was released eight months into his sentence due to good behavior.
Chris met Jean in 1991, and the couple married in 1992. Rebecca Jean Holness is a natural born American citizen. Immigration services ordered deportation for Chris on July 22, 1992 in Broward or Dade County, Florida. The deportation was appealed and dismissed, Jean said, on March 24, 1997. The attorney who originally represented Chris was Jeffery N. Brauwerman in Florida. Unfortunately, when the appeal was made, Jean and Chris were never notified that it was dismissed. They were notified on May 17, the same day I.C.E. took Chris away. Jean said there was absolutely no notification on the appeal since it was made in July 1992.
The couple moved to Mt. Juliet in October 1998, and they have two children, Paige, 14, and Merrick, 12, who attend Mt. Juliet schools. Chris, who works for Marchon Optical, and his family are active at Grace United Methodist.
“Chris has worked very hard as a father, supporter, worker, mentor and coach,” Jean said. “Chris has been a soccer coach to many kids in Nashville through the Donelson-Hermitage Y.M.C.A. He has coached some of the same kids for 10 years. He also coaches and supports his children. Chris has played soccer on various adult leagues throughout the city. He has participated in many friendly and family vacations. He has encouraged and supported his children in their extracurricular activities. Those activities include soccer, skating, snowboarding, gymnastics, hockey, hip hop dance, and all school activities. Chris is a tax-paying citizen who has worked very hard to support his family and be the man he is today.”
Jean said Chris is recognized in the community as a man of honesty, integrity and compassion. The family’s neighbor, Jeff Knop, confirmed Tuesday that Chris is “an absolute pillar of our community, a super neighbor and wonderful friend.
“We are desperately hoping to get enough attention to keep Chris in the country and get him back to Mt. Juliet,” Knop said. “This is not the purpose of immigration laws.”
Knop said that friends, family and neighbors of the Holness family – as well as any other interested people or parties, or other families who have had a loved one “unjustly taken” from their lives – should contact their local state and Federal representatives. He said politicians “respond to numbers, and numbers are what we hope to give them.”
He said the South Florida judge in charge of dismissing Chris’s case and possibly reversing the deportation will respond to letters and testimonials from people who know Chris and will attest “to the way he has rehabilitated and changed the course of his life.”
Knop said he is coordinating emails, anyone who wants to help by sending a letter to the judge can email him at JeffAV8R@comcast.net.
“We need enough personal letters to testify that Chris Holness is a great volunteer, a great church man, and friends to testify to forward to the judge,” Knop said. “The judge needs to know that there are people like Chris out there who, yes, did some things that were wrong years and years ago but paid for them and have built families and lives since. These immigration laws need reform.”
Knop added that even Chris’s original criminal attorney who represented Chris so many years ago in Florida “said he remembers and will help Chris.”
Officials with I.C.E. did not return requests for comment by press time Tuesday.
Jean said that her family had discussed sharing Chris’s story as a precautionary tale of drug addiction and redemption to children, but she “never knew this would be the path.
“We had prayed for a way to tell his story to touch the hearts of kids and teach them by his examples, as he learned from his mistakes and built a new, whole life for himself and us,” Jean said tearfully on Tuesday. She added that, once her family is reunited with Chris, she will use this experience as a way to learn more about immigration laws, reach out to others and work on immigration reform.
“When served by the grace of God, and when my husband is returned to us, I promise you and everyone that I will find a way to work on the next level,” Jean said.
Until then, Jean, her family, friends and church family are working desperately to “slow down” Chris’s deportation. They are working to contact as many local, state and Federal lawmakers as possible and garner as much attention and media response possible “to make them pay attention.” Jean said she is “personally grateful for everyone reaching out” to her and her family.
“My goal is to get my husband returned to live in Mt. Juliet, raise our family, grow and prosper, just like everybody else,” Jean said Tuesday. “But there are many, many other families this is affecting. I hope, when this is over and my husband is returned to our family, to work on getting immigration reform, but right now I can only work on making my own family whole again.”
Editor’s Note: Tomi L. Wiley is the editor of The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet.