Local chef faces deportation

Poumay is owner of Michel’s Corner

Michel Poumay, a well-known Durango chef, is being held in Denver pending a hearing about possible deportation. His Durango supporters are collecting signatures for a petition to present to the supervising judge at Poumay’s hearing, which is scheduled for Jan. 15. The petition is available at Karyn Gabaldon Fine Arts, 680 Main Ave. Enlarge photo

Durango Herald file

Michel Poumay, a well-known Durango chef, is being held in Denver pending a hearing about possible deportation. His Durango supporters are collecting signatures for a petition to present to the supervising judge at Poumay’s hearing, which is scheduled for Jan. 15. The petition is available at Karyn Gabaldon Fine Arts, 680 Main Ave.

Well-known Durango chef and crêpe master Michel Poumay is being held in Denver pending a hearing about possible deportation.

His lawyer advised family and friends not to speak to the media.

Pam Glasco has been informally inquiring about Poumay’s situation and stressed that all of her information is secondhand.

“Apparently he has his green card,” she said. “He’s been going back and forth for years with no problem, but on this last trip, he was detained at (Denver International Airport) by Immigration. Apparently, either a particular piece of paper was missing from his file, or some information is missing from a particular form.”

Durango supporters are collecting signatures for a petition to present to the supervising judge at Poumay’s hearing, which is currently scheduled for Jan. 15. The petition is available at Karyn Gabaldon Fine Arts, 680 Main Ave.

“Everyone from the community is encouraged to come down to Karyn’s gallery to sign the petition,” Glasco said. “We’d love to show some real community support.”

Poumay, 61, moved to the United States in 1972. He has been a Durango resident since 1996, when he moved his Chez Grand-mère restaurant down from Snowmass, where he had been in business since 1982.

After closing his restaurant in 2008, Poumay opened Michel’s Corner in 2009, where he prepares crêpes in a mock trolley car parked at Main Avenue and College Drive.

Poumay, who was born in France to Belgian parents, trained in Belgium at the Ecole Hotelliere de Liege-Culinary. He became a naturalized Belgian citizen and has worked in Africa and Central and South America as well as Europe and the United States.

Poumay has won a number of awards for his cooking, perhaps the most prestigious of which is his induction into the Companions of the White Toque with the Order of 33 Master Chefs of Belgium. He has also been awarded AAA’s Four-Diamond rating four times, been named a Three Star Restaurateur by Mobile Guide six times and received Wine Spectator’s wine list award eight times.

He has prepared haute cuisine for Chancellor Willy Brandt of West Germany and Great Britain’s late Queen Mother Elizabeth.

Poumay is being held in the Denver Contract Detention Facility in the suburb of Aurora, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website.

Jail staff referred questions to ICE’s regional spokesman, Carl Rusnok, who did not return a call and an email from the Herald.

It is unclear when and where immigration authorities took Poumay into custody. The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office has no record of contacting or jailing him.

The Belgian consul general in Los Angeles was not aware of Poumay’s detention.

Poumay finds himself in custody during a tumultuous moment for the country’s immigration agencies. On one hand, deportations are at a record level. On the other, authorities last week started a test program in Denver and Baltimore to focus their deportation efforts on the most dangerous people.

“The Obama administration has deported over 396,000 individuals this year. It’s a huge machine that has been built,” said Julie Gonzales, director of organizing for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.

Deportations are up 5 percent under this administration compared with former President George W. Bush’s.

“For all the talk of President Obama being a friend to the immigrant community, he’s actually deported more people and separated more families than any president in history,” Gonzales said.

Colorado’s immigration court is in the middle of a six-week shutdown while prosecutors review about 7,800 deportation cases to see if they should be pursued or put on the shelf.

But the review might not necessarily help Poumay.

“There’s all kinds of questions as to what that’s going to mean to people who are in the detention facility,” Gonzales said.

Unlike regular criminal courts, defendants in immigration court are not guaranteed a lawyer if they can’t afford one, and most proceedings are held in secret.

The deportation process can take years. Monday was the fifth anniversary of a federal raid on six Swift meatpacking plants, including one in Greeley, that captured 1,300 suspected illegal immigrants. Twenty Colorado families are still going through the immigration court process from that raid, Gonzales said.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

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