The Sylvain Family


Roland Sylvain is a green card holder who moved from Haiti to the U.S when he was just 7 years old and has lived in the U.S. for 35 years. Roland is a family man who loves to spend time with his U.S. citizen wife, his four U.S. citizen children and his U.S. citizen stepdaughter. He is known as the anchor of his family.

Roland’s family and home are in the United States. His parents are both naturalized citizens who emigrated from Haiti to build a better life for their family. Roland’s mother is a licensed practical nurse and his father, a former yellow cab driver, is a recently retired school bus driver. After saving up from their hard work, Roland’s parents purchased a home in Piscataway, NJ, where Roland grew up with his brother Carl and sister Cristina. Roland currently splits his time between Jamaica, Queens and Connecticut, where his wife, Lilly, lives with her daughter. His sister lives in nearby New Jersey and his brother lives in Georgia. Roland also has a large, extended tight-knit family in the U.S. (his mother has 9 siblings), most of whom live on the East Coast. Roland has always been one of the leaders in keeping his family–both immediate and extended–together. He is the first to jump in and take care of things when there is an issue. He also organizes family vacations and reunions.

Roland and his wife Lilly are both frontline workers who have stepped up to serve their communities throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Roland is a Quality Assurance Production Lead at a company that distributes personal protective equipment (PPE). He has been risking his health to work in-person to ensure that other frontline workers have access to life-saving PPE. Lilly is a registered nurse and has also been working in person throughout the pandemic. In these unprecedented times, they have supported each other and relied heavily on one another.

Despite Roland’s strong family ties and many contributions to the community, he is now facing deportation because of Virginia convictions he received after writing someone else’s name on traffic tickets 18 years ago.

In 2002, Roland and his family were en route to Florida for a vacation when they were pulled over for speeding. Everyone was forced to exit the vehicle and sit on the side of the road while a police officer issued Roland three traffic tickets. In a moment of panic, Roland signed someone else’s name on the tickets because his own license had been suspended. Roland immediately confessed his true identity to the police officer, but it didn’t matter; the officer charged him with forging public records. Roland pleaded guilty without being advised of the immigration consequences of his plea. He received a one-and-a-half-year suspended sentence for each ticket he signed. When he asked about the suspended sentence, his lawyer told him it was no big deal; that it was just a traffic infraction. Roland never served any time in jail. After his conviction, Roland moved on, started a family, and developed expertise in quality assurance. He had no idea that his guilty plea would change his life forever.

In 2011, Roland and several family members decided to take a week-long Fourth of July cruise. When they returned to Florida, Roland, along with others on the ship who weren’t U.S. citizens, was taken to an immigration office. An official took his fingerprints and green card. Roland later received a date to appear in immigration court in the mail and found himself in removal proceedings. Immigration officials argued that Roland’s Virginia convictions from ten years earlier were “aggravated felonies” and that he should be deported without the immigration court considering how long he’s lived in the U.S., his family ties, or his contributions to community.

Then, in 2014, something happened that Roland thought would turn his life around: he received a rare grant of prosecutorial discretion from ICE and the immigration court administratively closed his case. Roland thought he would be able to put this legal nightmare behind him. That is, until his case was reopened.

In 2018, four years after being granted prosecutorial discretion, ICE moved to reopen his case, citing former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision in Matter of Castro Tum. Roland is now again confronted with the threat of exile and permanent separation from his family and his community.

A pardon from the Governor of Virginia could prevent Roland’s deportation.

The Immigrant Justice Network is a leading advocacy voice against the criminalization of immigrants in the United States. Grounded in racial justice values, we build power to defend the dignity of all immigrants.