Mindy Saint Martin sits with her children Marcus, left; 2-month-old Mya, and Donovan at their home in Waterville on Monday. Her husband, Lexius, has been deported to Haiti. His case is scheduled to be heard by a pardon board in Augusta on July 19. The panel will recommend to the governor whether Lexius Saint Martin should be pardoned for a 2008 conviction – a pardon that the family hopes will lead to his return to Waterville. Staff photo by David Leaming

WATERVILLE — Mindy Saint Martin feels guilty about a lot of things these days.

Lexius Saint Martin has been separated from his wife, Mindy, and his family since his arrest by ICE agents on Jan. 2. A businessman, he was the sole means of support for the family. His wife has since had to appeal to the state of Maine for assistance. Contributed photo

When, for instance, she is invited to a delicious meal with her parents, she stops mid-bite, thinking about her husband sitting in a tiny hut in Haiti, eating rice and beans thanks to money her mother and grandparents send him, as there are no jobs and no way to earn money.

As Mindy, 28, drives through the safe streets of Waterville, she knows there will be help if she needs it. When her husband leaves his Haitian hut, which has no running water or electricity, to get food, he is taking his life in his hands.

“Right now, it’s terrible,” Lexius Saint Martin, 35, said Monday in a phone interview. “The price of gas went up, and basically they’re burning the streets. They’re burning the buildings. Some cars that burn have people in them. They have no police, no control and people are doing whatever they want. It’s very unsafe, so it’s very scary.”

As hopeless as the situation in Haiti may seem, Lexius Saint Martin, his wife, Mindy, and their children cling to the slim hope that a pardon for a 10-year-old crime will pave the way for him to reunite with his family, another casualty of the Trump administration’s harsh policies that result in the separation of parents from their children within the United States and at the Mexican border.

Lexius Saint Martin was talking Monday via cellphone from Gonaives, Haiti. At the house he owns on Oakland Street in Waterville, Mindy and Lexius’ lawyer, Evan Fisher, sat at the kitchen table, listening on speaker phone to his interview with a reporter.

“The kids here, the parents leave them home as young as 11/2,” Lexius said. “Some of them go days without eating. Half of them have no clothes. They all sleep in the same room. It’s really not pleasant.”

His life in Haiti is a long way from the one he enjoyed in Waterville with Mindy and their boys, Donovan, 5, and Marcus, 2. They enjoyed spending time in their home, which was possible because of Lexius’ cleaning business, which earned them a comfortable living. Lexius has never met his third child, a daughter, Mya, born May 10.

Mindy Saint Martin holds her 2-month-old daughter, Mya, on Monday as attorney Evan Fisher talks about the upcoming hearing before a pardon board that will recommend to the governor whether to pardon her husband, Lexius, for a 2008 drug trafficking conviction. Staff photo by David Leaming

He has been in Haiti since February, when he was deported after being arrested on the Waterville street where he lives Jan. 2 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials as he was leaving his house to go to work.

In 2007, three years before he met Mindy and when he was working at Walmart 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. However, 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.

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.

When he was arrested by ICE officials Jan. 2, his wife had no idea he was gone until she got a phone call awhile later, informing her that he was taken to jail.

He had come 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, and stayed.

WORKING TO REUNITE FAMILY

Mindy feels guilty that she gets to enjoy her children, but their father does not. He can speak to them only via cellphone.

“My family and kids, they keep me going,” Lexius said. “Without them I don’t know where I’d be right now. I got to thank them. I dream of them every night because here, there is no life here. You wake up, you can’t do anything. It’s not a life.”

The Saint Martins’ only hope right now is Fisher, who cares passionately about their plight and about immigration rights. He has been preparing to represent Lexius at a July 19 hearing before a three-member pardon board in Augusta that will make a recommendation about whether he should be pardoned for his trafficking charge. The meeting, open to the public, starts at 9 a.m. in the third floor board room at Department of Corrections, 25 Tyson Drive. Three applicants will be considered and Lexius’ hearing is last, so Fisher expects he will be considered at about noon or 12:30 p.m.

Whatever recommendation the panel makes will be forwarded to Gov. Paul LePage, who could decide whether he agrees with the recommendation, opposes it or decides to make no decision at all.

Fisher hopes Lexius can speak to the panel via cell phone, though reception from Haiti is spotty.

“Because of the civil unrest in Haiti, people are destroying things, including cellphone towers, making it very hard to communicate,” Fisher said. “We hope there’s infrastructure on the 19th. A lot of it’s fingers crossed, hope for the best.”

Fisher said the panel will not make a recommendation that day — that takes time — and the governor could take time to render a decision.

“We think this is a compelling humanitarian story and obviously we want swift, positive action, but we have no control over that part of the process,” he said.

Fisher said that as important as July 19 is, Nov. 6 also is critical to Lexius and people in similar situations.

“That’s the day that everybody in this state and in the states can vote to change the course that we’re on,” he said. “Does it matter? It matters to this family.”

He noted that when he talks about changing direction, he is referring to the national discussion about what kind of human rights the U.S. affords people who were not born in this country — and Lexius lived here about 25 years.

“I think that this pardon process is an opportunity for the state of Maine and the governor to send a message saying, ‘We like this guy.’ When you think about it, if everyone who’s been convicted of a crime in this state rehabilitated the way Lexius did, we’d have the most successful prison system in the world. What more can we ask of the people we punish, coming out of jail refraining from criminal activity, changing their peer group, start working, starting a family, paying taxes, buying a house, just trying to embrace the American dream? I mean, that’s what he’s done.”

Mindy, who did not know Lexius until after he was released from prison, said “he has completely done a 360.” Fisher concurred.

“This community, this state, this country — we need more Lexius Saint Martins,” he said. “Let me tell you, they’re hard to find. He’s an exceptional person. I think if he had been born in the U.S., his punishment would have been over in 2008.”

Asked about his thoughts on separating children from parents at the border, Fisher said he thinks it is “horrible.”

“You can see right here the effects of separating parents from children are profound. Mindy’s kids at least have one parent. The children at the border are without both parents. I can’t believe something like this is happening in our country, and more than that, I can’t believe it’s being defended. It troubles me that people stand up and say, ‘This is how we interpret the policy and we have to make these separations.'”

A MOTHER, HANGING TOUGH

Life is hard for Mindy, who quietly cares for her children, working toward trying to bring her husband back to Waterville. While his business, for which she did the bookkeeping, is dormant, he would open it back up if he could return and says he is sure his former clients would take him back.

“He loves it here — he loves Maine,” Mindy said.

In March, she flew to Haiti, pregnant, to visit her husband with funds donated by supporters. While she was happy to see him, the experience was frightening because of the mayhem — people defecating in the street, children begging for money and everywhere indescribable poverty.

She has had to ask for state help to keep her family and home going, something she never dreamed she would have to do.

“Lexius owns this home,” she said. “I had to get on the state, which is not exactly what I wanted to do. That was never my plan. We never had any state assistance, and it’s difficult.”

She is doing the best she can, but it is hard.

“I just want my husband home,” she said.

As her mother, Jodie Reynolds, of Clinton, held the baby in the living room of Mindy and Lexius’ modest, immaculate house, Mindy said it was hard on her boys to see their father every day and then have him disappear.

“My oldest, he takes karate classes now,” she said. “He had a meltdown …”

Her voice trailed off and she broke into tears.

“It’s not easy,” she said. “He saw some other kids in his class get dropped off by their dad, and he just started crying. And here I am, trying to keep it together to not make things get worse. And he had his first karate tournament and he was really excited to compete, and we got there and he cried the entire time he was competing because his dad was not there watching him.”

Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247:

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