Christmas for the Montfleurys is usually a party.
The family, all of whom have come to Utah from Haiti over the years, is close — and big. All the aunts, uncles and cousins get together. They laugh, they dance.
But this year, the family had no celebration.
It didn’t feel right. Not without Mackenley there.
For the past four months, 27-year-old Mackenley Montfleury has been locked up in an immigration detention center after he pleaded no contest to a marijuana and a domestic violence charge.
And while he is a lawful permanent resident in the United States, these low-level convictions could result in his deportation back to Haiti — a country he hasn’t been to since he was 10.
But Mackenley didn’t know when he took a plea deal in September that it could affect his immigration status. His public defender never discussed it.
On Monday, more than a dozen of Mackenley’s family members filled an Orem courtroom as his new attorney, Jonathan Paz, asked the justice court judge to let his client withdraw his pleas.
I need my son back home,” Micheline Montfleury said in tears
Mackenley’s father, Joseph Ernst Montfleury, first came to the United States in 2002. He was involved in politics, and ran to be a congressman in Haiti. But after the election, his family home was bombed.
“We tried to resist for two years,” the father said. “The situation got worse and worse and worse. That’s why I decided to leave.”
The elder Montfleury asked for political asylum. He first brought his daughter to the United States, then his two sons and wife came later that year.
“We follow the rules,” the father said. “We don’t give any problems.”
The Montfleurys raised their family in Orem. Everyone in the family eventually became U.S. citizens except for Mackenley, who has a green card that does not expire until 2026.
The father said the family held off on applying for citizenship for Mackenley because, at that time, he was a teenager who had started getting into some trouble. The kind of trouble that’s typical of many teenagers — sneaking out of the house, smoking marijuana. They worried then he could be denied citizenship because of it.
And then, last Thanksgiving, Mackenley got into a fight with his father.
“We have rules and he didn’t follow the rules,” the father said of the altercation. “He became aggressive with me. He hit me in the eye.”
The police were called. And despite the father’s objections, prosecutors filed an assault charge against his youngest son. Montfleury later wrote a letter to the judge asking that the case be dropped, but it didn’t work.
Mackenley pleaded no contest in September and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. Grant Nagamatsu, his public defender, later wrote in a court affidavit that he never discussed the possible ramifications a conviction for even low-level crimes could have on Mackenley’s immigration status.
“I was unaware [he] was not an American citizen,” the attorney wrote. “I made no personal observation that would indicate he was not born in the United States.”