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(EAGLE-TRIBUNE) — On Monday, Jacob Leonce, a 45-year old man originally from St. Lucia who has lived in the city for close to a decade, was deported back to the Caribbean Island from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Burlington.
Leonce, a married father of two sons who were born in Haverhill, was first notified in December by immigration authorities that renewal of his work visa was being denied and that he would be deported in February.
Since December, local activists, congregants at Leonce’s church and state legislators have worked to try and keep Leonce in Massachusetts. But their efforts turned out to be for naught, as Leonce was sent back to his home nation Monday after being held over the weekend at ICE’s Burlington facility, the same place his work visa was denied a renewal.
Haverhill Attorney Paul Magliochetti, whose law firm had been working to keep Leonce in the United States, said Tuesday Leonce had dealt with attorneys since immigrating to the United States in 1999, none of whom provided him with the proper assistance in becoming a legal citizen.
“The unfortunate thing about the whole process is that he’s tried to play by the rules,” said Magliochetti.
When Leonce arrived in Burlington Friday with his family, his attorney Thomas Tretter, and members of the New England Pentecostal Church in Pelham, New Hampshire, Magliochetti said authorities gave Leonce his passport and the plane tickets he had purchased previously to head back to St. Lucia.
“He could’ve just skipped town but he didn’t. How many of the ‘criminals’ or ‘bad guys’ they’re trying to deport would do that?” he said.
Magliochetti said his firm is still assisting Leonce’s wife Georgia, and sons Jediah and Gerwin. He has spoken with Haverhill School Superintendent James Scully as well as the principal of the boy’s school about Leonce’s situation.
For now, Magliochetti said his office is still working on Leonce’s behalf to try and find a way to bring him back to the United States.
Asked about whether there is any recourse for Leonce, Magliochetti said federal immigration law prohibits individuals who have been deported from the United States from reapplying for citizenship for 10 years, barring extremely rare circumstances.
“The real hope lies in Washington,” said Magliochetti. “When they are negotiating these laws, they need to find a way to allow people in Jacob’s situation to return to the country.
“I’ve tried to relay this message to our state and federal delegation, but in the meantime, we’ll continue to advocate on Jacob’s behalf,” continued Magliochetti.
Trevor LaFauci, an organizer with the Merrimack Valley Project, a Lawrence-based immigrant rights organization, said Tuesday that the group is working to assist Jacob’s wife and children during this difficult time, connecting them with other local organizations which can provide them with social services.
He added that Leonce’s situation, sadly, is far from unique in the region.
“We’re working with others at this time, instances where one partner or both partners are undocumented but their children were born here and are thus U.S. citizens,” said LaFauci.
The Merrimack Valley Project is also speaking with legislators about passing the Safe Communities Act, a bill proposed by Lawrence state Rep. Juana Matias, which would limit the amount of cooperation between local and state police and federal immigration authorities.