- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 22, 2001

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals overturned a deportation order for a Haitian nanny convicted of killing an 18-month-old infant, saying the fatal beating she admitted giving the child was not a crime of violence.
The judges blocked the order in March, ruling that Melanie Jeanbeaucejour's deportation would cause her family "severe emotional hardship." She had twice been ordered out of the country by a U.S. immigration judge after serving two years of a six-year sentence in the child's death.
The previously undisclosed ruling, which remains under court seal, was handed down by Board of Immigration Appeals Judges Cecelia Espenoza, Gustavo Villageliu and Lory D. Rosenburg. All three were appointed by former Attorney General Janet Reno.
In the sealed order, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, the three judges said they were "convinced" that Jeanbeaucejour had met the federal standards to show that her family would "suffer extreme hardship if she is forced to return to Haiti," despite her conviction in the death of an infant in her care.
The board, an independent body with jurisdiction nationwide to hear appeals on immigration decisions by both federal judges and district directors of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, acted on a petition by Jeanbeaucejour to block the deportation.
The 18-member board is based in Falls Church.
Jeanbeaucejour, 44, was found guilty in a Buffalo, N.Y., courtroom on Sept. 12, 1995, on a charge of manslaughter in the second degree, according to New York State Department of Correctional Services records. Her conviction came less than a year after her arrival in the United States from Haiti as a refugee.
After her 1997 release from prison, the INS called for her deportation as an alien who had been convicted of a violent crime. The INS said at an August 1999 hearing that her removal from the country was dictated under the moral turpitude sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
U.S. Immigration Judge Phillip J. Montante Jr., who heard the INS case, ordered her deportation on Aug. 18, 1999, ruling that the woman was an aggravated felon and not eligible under existing federal law to stay in the United States.
Four months later, the Board of Immigration Appeals, acting on Jeanbeaucejour's petition, ordered the case returned to Judge Montante, ruling that he had "erroneously" decided that her manslaughter conviction was a crime of violence.
Although Judge Montante acknowledged the board's ruling from the bench, according to the sealed records, he disregarded it and again ordered that the woman be deported as an aggravated felon who had committed a crime of violence.
The judge cited federal statutes that define an aggravated felony as "a crime of violence," saying the Haitian woman's crime fit that legal description. He also noted that she had confessed to the crime and never challenged her conviction.
Jeanbeaucejour appealed Judge Montante's decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals based on the testimony of her husband and two of her five children, who said her forced return to Haiti would cause them "extreme hardship."
In its sealed ruling in March, the board curtly reminded Judge Montante that its decisions were "binding on all immigration judges."
"In light of the immigration judge's disregard of our order, we feel compelled to reiterate our finding in our decision dated Dec. 16, 1999; the respondent's crime does not constitute a crime of violence and, therefore, is not an aggravated felony," the board said. "Accordingly, the immigration judge's decision 'distinguishing' our decision will be vacated."
According to court records, Jeanbeaucejour admitted to Monroe County, N.Y., police investigators that she had hit the infant on the head and shook him until he stopped breathing.
She told detectives, according to a statement she made after her arrest, that she picked up the baby after he had fallen and "hit his rear end two or three times with my open hand."
"I did this to get him to stop crying," she said, according to the statement. "He continued crying so I hit him two or three times with my fist on the top of his head. I did this to stop him from crying. It did not work."
Jeanbeaucejour told detectives, according to the statement, that she then picked up the infant and started shaking him.
"I do not know how long I shook [the baby], but I did not stop until he was unconscious," she said.
The Monroe County Medical Examiner's Office, in an autopsy report, said the cause of death was blunt trauma to the baby's head, chest and abdomen. One official familiar with the case said he had "never seen such a brutal beating involving a baby."
The infant was not identified in the court records.
INS District Director Mary Francis Holmes in Buffalo yesterday said the agency has appealed the ruling by the three-judge panel and has asked that the matter of Jeanbeaucejour's deportation be heard by the entire 18-member board. No date has been set for a hearing in the matter.
None of the three judges who ruled in the case was available for comment.
Rich Kenney, spokesman for the Board of Immigration Appeals, said yesterday he could not comment on the specifics of a pending case but said the board would review the merits of the INS appeal in determining whether to refer the matter to the full board.
Mr. Kenney added that the board was not obligated to hear the case, saying that full hearings before the 18-member panel were "not frequent."
Judge Montante declined yesterday to comment on the case or on the Board of Immigration Appeals ruling.
But in his deportation order, he wrote that extensive reviews of the infant's death "clearly indicate that this offense was a crime of violence" and that under federal law, Jeanbeaucejour was not eligible to remain in the United States, "having been convicted by a final judgment of a particularly serious crime."
Judge Montante wrote that Jeanbeaucejour's statement to police about her actions concerning the baby was "consistent with the autopsy report detailing the injuries sustained by the victim and the cause of death."
Judge Espenoza, a former professor at St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio, and Judge Villageliu, a Cuban refugee and former immigration judge in Miami, were named to the board in 1995.
Judge Rosenburg, a former lecturer at Washington College of Law at American University, was appointed in 2000.


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