(EAGLE TRIBUNE) — He has been living in Haverhill for roughly a decade with a wife and two children.
Now, Jacob Leonce, 45, is days away from being deported back to his home nation of St. Lucia, an island in the Caribbean.
When Leonce’s work visa wasn’t renewed in December at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Burlington, he was told he would have to self-deport back to St. Lucia, where he has not lived since 1999.
In response to Leonce’s situation, many in the Haverhill community and throughout the Merrimack Valley have spoken out on behalf of Leonce. A rally last Sunday at the Pelham, New Hampshire, Pentecostal church Leonce attends with his wife, Georgia, and sons, Jediah and Gerwin, drew a large number of parishioners and outside supporters who took up a collection for Leonce and his family.
While Leonce and his wife hail from the St. Lucian capital of Castries, home to 53,000 people, his 9- and 7-year-old sons Jediah and Gerwin were both born in Massachusetts.
“It’s been very stressful, but we’re still keeping the faith,” said Leonce Wednesday. “Relatives and friends have been visiting, praying and trying to assist as best they can.”
The Merrimack Valley Project, a Lawrence-based activist group, has been advocating on behalf of Leonce and members of the organization pleaded with Attorney General Maura Healey to help Leonce avoid deportation at a recent town hall forum at the Hunking School in Bradford.
Leonce said he will be traveling to Boston Thursday to meet with a lawyer referred to him by the attorney general’s office to discuss his situation. If he is deported Monday, he will return to St. Lucia and live with family in Castries.
“I’ll basically have to start over,” he said.
Attorney Paul Magliochetti, whose firm has been representing Leonce for the past three years, said that he is aware of the meeting with the attorney general’s office Thursday. Magliochetti said that he has contacted the city’s state and federal delegation, as well as attorneys specializing in immigration law, trying to help Leonce.
In a recent interview, Leonce said he has sought to become a legal U.S. citizen, but said that he has worked with several attorneys during his time in the United States who told him they could help him become a citizen but ended up doing little on his behalf.
Trevor LaFauci, an organizer with the Merrimack Valley Project, said Wednesday that a vigil is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 2 at the ICE facility in Burlington, where Leonce is scheduled to be detained ahead of his deportation on Monday, Feb. 5.
“It most likely will be the last time he will be allowed to see his family. Our Haverhill community will be losing a valuable churchgoer, worker, husband, and father as a result of our current immigration policies,” said LaFauci Wednesday.
At the recent town hall meeting with Healey, another Merrimack Valley Project organizer, Bill Taylor of Haverhill, told the attorney general that Leonce “doesn’t have any friends in the legal system right now” and asked her for her office’s help.
Asked about Leonce’s situation after the town hall, Taylor said he thought of his own family.
“I think of my daughters and how I would feel if my family was torn apart,” said Taylor. “A lot of people have a lot of opinions about folks who are undocumented. I just don’t think law enforcement should be going after these people.”