WATERVILLE — Mindy Saint Martin finds herself crying frequently, but she tries not to when her children, Donovan, 5, and Marcus, 2, are present.
“I cry a lot every day — when I go to bed, I cry when I’m in the shower, I cry if I go to the bathroom, but I try not to show any tears in front of my kids,” she said.
Saint Martin, 28, has been devastated since her husband, the children’s father, was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials four weeks ago and taken to a detention facility in New Hampshire, where he is waiting to be deported to Haiti.
“It’s like our whole world is tipped upside down,” Saint Martin said Monday from the couple’s Western Avenue home. “You go from having this same, exact routine every day to everything just all scattered and nothing is like the way it was. It’s lonely. It’s quiet, even with the two kids.”
Six months pregnant with the couple’s third child, a girl, Saint Martin fears her husband will not be there for the birth in May.
“I don’t even want to think about it,” she said. “It’s scary.”
Her husband, Lexius Saint Martin, 35, came to the U.S. with his father and siblings in 1994 when he was 11. Classified as a refugee, he was in the U.S. legally and had green card status. He attended school in Florida and later came to Maine to work in the blueberry fields.
In 2007, three years before he met Mindy and when he was working at Wal-Mart in Augusta, he was arrested for trafficking in cocaine. He was convicted in 2008, served seven months in jail and vowed never to get involved in anything illegal again. But he had violated his immigration status. An immigration judge ordered his removal.
He was taken to Texas where he awaited deportation, but he was released when Haiti suffered an earthquake and could not take people back. The deportation order, however, was not rescinded. As the Trump administration pursues deportations, the order now hangs over Lexius Saint Martin, and perhaps only an appeal to the state’s congressional delegation or the governor will alter his fate.
AN ABRUPT DEPARTURE
In 2010 Lexius met Mindy through friends. They fell in love though she said she would not date him unless he got a job. Two days later, he landed a job cleaning for a business at a hospital in Boothbay.
Lexius later started his own successful business, LMD Cleaning Services, which contracts with Lincoln Health. He cleans three facilities and a nursing home. In spring and summer, he cleans windows at places such as the Lovejoy Health Center in Albion and for families including the Alfonds in Belgrade.
Mindy Saint Martin, a softspoken woman, sat in her tidy kitchen Monday afternoon as her mother, Jodie Reynolds, of Clinton, played with the children in the living room. The Lawrence High School graduate said she and the children miss Lexius terribly.
“We’re devastated without my husband and the father of our children. He was an asset to everybody and for him to be home would make a world of difference, and I wish there could just be closure for other families who are in this situation.”
Lexius Saint Martin is with other detainees awaiting deportation at Strafford County Department of Corrections in Dover, New Hampshire.
Not knowing when he will be deported is frightening, Mindy said.
“That worries me sick,” she said. “It’s scary. It’s terrifying. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”
At 12:05 p.m. Jan. 2, Lexius drove out of their driveway in his black sport utility vehicle to head to work. ICE officials stopped his vehicle down the street, let him drive it back to the driveway and park it and then took him away.
Mindy Saint Martin was cleaning Marcus’ diaper when the phone rang. It was an unknown number so she let it ring. Then her husband called.
“He said, ‘Mindy, ICE just picked me up and I’m being deported to Haiti. You are an awesome wife and mother and I love you. Kiss the boys. I love them.’ I was, like, shaking. His sister happened to be visiting from Florida. She took over the phone because I couldn’t talk. An ICE officer got on the phone and told her that his day has come and he’s being deported and that was it.”
He spent a week in Cumberland County Jail before being taken to New Hampshire.
Lexius Saint Martin does not want to go to Haiti. He knows no one there. He has nowhere to go when he is dropped off at the airport.
“Our whole life is here,” Mindy Saint Martin said. “We built everything here and then to possibly lose it all is scary.”
Contacted Monday, an official at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Boston office said he would send an email outlining Lexius’ status.
In the email he shared the information only as background, and he did not want to be identified.
Deportation officers with ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations division arrested Saint Martin Jan. 2 based on an outstanding order of removal, according to the email.
“Mr. Saint Martin entered the country lawfully in 1994,” it says. “In 2009, he was convicted for drug trafficking and sentenced to prison, violating the terms of his lawful status. At the conclusion of his prison term, he was placed in removal proceedings and subsequently issued a final order of removal by an immigration judge in 2010. He is currently in ICE custody, pending removal from the U.S.”
Evan Fisher, an attorney for the Augusta law firm of Lipman & Katz took over the Saint Martins’ case two weeks ago. A person born in the U.S. who is convicted of trafficking would serve seven months and then be free, Fisher said, but a person not born in the country is removed for deportation.
Lexius does not qualify for DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Fisher said, because he entered the U.S. legally, whereas DACA recipients did not.
Lexius was arrested by ICE officials after serving his time and moved from Maine to Texas, where he had to prepare his own legal defense because he could not afford a lawyer, Fisher said. An order of removal was signed. Lexius had a month to appeal it, but did not do so. Then the earthquake hit Haiti and buildings were destroyed, people were killed and the country was devastated, Fisher said. Haiti could not handle anyone being repatriated.
Lexius was released in 2010 on “supervised release.” He followed the protocol, checking in with an officer, notifying ICE officials if he had a change of address or employment, Fisher said. He took bus after bus back to Maine, a place he had learned to love, and met Mindy, an assistant in an optometrist’s office.
When he and Mindy had their second child, his wife became a stay-at-home mother and he became the sole breadwinner, making good money and complying with the terms of his release. The couple bought a home. They pay taxes.
“Jan. 2, it all just got ripped away from him,” Fisher said, adding that Mindy and her parents are “traumatically affected by this.”
Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, has been plagued by disasters and is “wretched,” Fisher said.
“The government of Haiti has pleaded to the U.S. — please don’t send anybody back,” he said.
Legally, Lexius’ situation is dire, Fisher said, but he hopes elected officials may be able to help once everyone understands the damage that would be done by removing him from his wife, children and family.
Fisher is in the process of filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which says Lexius Saint Martin should be released because his rights are being violated.
A PLEA FOR HELP
Mindy Saint Martin was reticent to go public with her family’s story, fearing it might further jeopardize her husband’s status. But she and her husband and Fisher decided they would speak out.
Fisher is contacting Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Representatives Bruce Poliquin and Chellie Pingree.
“We are going to reach out to the entire delegation because we think this is something that shouldn’t be defined by party lines,” Fisher said. “We think everyone shares a common goal of keeping this family intact.”
Gov. Paul LePage has been contacted about the case. The governor does not have the power to release Lexius Saint Martin, but LePage could lend a key piece of support — a pardon of the trafficking conviction.
“I have been privileged to read 50 letters from people on his behalf sent to Gov. LePage, from Mindy’s family, people at the hospital,” Fisher said
He emphasized that Lexius served his time for the nonviolent offense, it was more than five years ago and he has had no criminal activity since then.
“He is what I would say is the model of rehabilitation and a productive member of society,” Fisher said.
LePage said in a phone interview Monday that he tried to help when a lawyer contacted his office, which contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the case.
The problem is that Lexius Saint Martin knew for a long time that he needed to take action to try to change his immigration status, but he did not. By the time it came to the governor’s office, it was too late, LePage said. Under President Obama’s administration, Lexius was able to stay in the U.S., but when the administration changed the rules changed, LePage said.
“The courts have already issued a deportation order,” he said. “It’s just that it wasn’t being enforced.”
LePage said he has not yet received a request to pardon Saint Martin.
“There’s a process to do that,” he said and indicated he would consider a request. “By all means, but now I think it’s much too late because the order has been issued.”
Spokesmen for Collins, King and Pingree said that, for privacy reasons, they could not comment on cases involving constituents.
“When we get calls from family about a deportation case,” Andrew Colvin, deputy director of communications for Pingree, said in an email, “we can help them find out which deportation center their loved one is in and advise them to contact an immigration attorney.”
While their roles are limited in such matters, Colvin released a comment from Pingree.
“What we’ve been seeing in Maine and across the country is the Trump Administration shifting its priorities for deportation,” her statement says. “Instead of focusing resources on those who pose the greatest risk, they’re going after anyone they can, regardless of whether that means ripping a family apart or losing valued members of the community. One moment, these men and women are going to work, getting on a bus, or entering a public building — and the next, they’re calling their family to say goodbye from a detention center. It’s absolutely heartbreaking and a nonsensical mismanagement of limited resources.”
A representative from Poliquin’s office returned a call Monday from the Morning Sentinel but a reporter missed the call.
Waterville resident Linda Woods, a retired 36-year English teacher who had Mindy Saint Martin as a student in her 12th grade class at Lawrence High School in Fairfield, said she has stayed in touch with her over the years.
“They are a very close family,” Woods said Monday. “Because of Facebook, I saw pictures of Mindy and her husband, who I haven’t met, doing everyday things with their children like reading bedtime stories and ice fishing. The smiles on everyone’s faces showed they are a happy, loving family — a salt of the earth family living as most central Mainers do, working hard to make a comfortable living for themselves.”
Woods said there was a large turnout at a recent benefit luncheon for the Saint Martins, which shows how much people care about the situation.
At the Saint Martin house Monday, Mindy and her mother said Mindy’s physician is keeping an eye on her and her unborn baby’s health as she deals with the situation.
Jodie Reynolds said she loves her son-in-law, who loves his family, and she and her husband, John, pray for his return.
“He is a good man,” she said. “We miss him awful … We don’t sleep good. We wake up in the night and say this is awful. It’s all you think about. He needs to be home with his family, with all of us.”
Mindy’s eyes fill with tears when she talks about their unborn daughter, Mya, who is due on May 18. She and her husband hoped for a girl, but she miscarried last year. They were thrilled when they learned she was pregnant again.
She worries for their boys, Donovan and Marcus, who have been told Lexius is away working.
“Marcus is too little to understand,” she said. “I show them both pictures every day. Donovan, when it first happened, he’d come to my bedroom at four in the morning, crying, so he misses his dad, and on the weekends, he said, ‘Daddy should be home, getting ready for bed with us.’
“I’ve got to try to keep it together to stay strong for them, but it’s extremely hard.”