Orange Park Woman Is Tangled in Immigration Law; She Faces Deportation Because There Is No Record That She Applied for Asylum

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The American dream Marie Odette Brevil sought when she fled Haiti 20 years ago has started crumbling around the Orange Park woman, who now sits in a detention center facing deportation.

Although she came to the United States on a legally obtained visa and has held a job and paid taxes since then, her husband of three months said she got caught in a bureaucratic maze that could end with her returning to the tumultuous Caribbean country.

The problem is that there's no record she ever applied for asylum, although she has told officials she paid a storefront lawyer in Miami to do so once she arrived in the United States.

"That causes me to believe that the man took her money but never filed her request," said Jean Patterson, her employer.

Attempts to fix the problem have been unsuccessful.

So in April, when Brevil showed up for a meeting scheduled to move the process, agents arrested her. She has been in a South Florida detention center since then.

Brevil's life in Haiti changed dramatically when her first husband died of stomach cancer, leaving her with two young daughters to support with the earnings from a small gift shop she owned. But her husband's family was convinced she had starved him to death or fed him poisoned food and vowed to kill her.

She left her daughters with relatives and fled on a legal visa. She arrived in Miami, filed for asylum and got a Social Security card and a green card, which allowed her to live here.

Brevil made her way to the Jacksonville area where, through her church, she was introduced to Patterson, owner of The Hilltop, a Victorian-style restaurant in Orange Park.

Fifteen years ago, Patterson hired Brevil, and she has worked at the restaurant ever since as a dishwasher, laundress and maid and supervises several assistants.

For all those years, Brevil, now 52, paid into Social Security, paid income taxes each year and paid for her medical insurance, Patterson said. She has not been in any trouble with the law, according to a background check by the Times-Union. Her daughters were brought here by relatives, and she has raised them alone.

Life was going well, and in March she married James Gillum, who was working at The Hilltop as a painter.

Now his life is also on hold as he sits in the couple's neat townhouse near the restaurant, praying for her to return.

"She has been . . . paying taxes and Social Security and being a good hard worker, and they take her away," Gillum despaired. "I want her back."

Patterson has tried to guide Brevil through myriad complicated forms and procedures of the Citizenship and Immigration Service, formerly known as Immigration and Naturalization Service. …