• Church rallies together to help father of two avoid deportation


    HAVERHILL, Mass. - A father of two from the remote country of San Lucia is facing deportation back to his home country after lawyers were unable to properly adjust his status.

    Jacob Leonce first came to the United States on a work visa and had legal status while his visa was still valid. 

    That status, however, began to fall apart 10 years ago when immigration authorities became aware that Leonce's work visa had lapsed.

    Since then, he's been trying to do everything in his power to stay in the only country his two sons know as home.

    The married father was first detained in 2007, when Haverhill Police mistook him for a suspect they had been searching for. After noting he didn't have an ID on him, only a passport, they turned him over to ICE, according to the Merrimack Valley Project.

    Ever since then, Jacob has been looking through every possible option he may have in order to evade deportation. 

    "I didn't come here against the law, I came here on a valid visa," said Leonce. "I did everything I could to remain in status - at some point I had status." 

    Jacob said he was referred to inexperienced or fraudulent lawyers who made his legal process all the more difficult. 

    According to the Merrimack Valley Project, one of those lawyers allegedly accepted voluntary deportation from a judge on behalf of Jacob without his consent, thus scheduling him to leave in 2010. Despite the date, Jacob was able to remain in the country for the birth of his son.

    This year, his stay of removal was denied and deportation back to San Lucia is about 10 days away. 

    While he faces leaving his family, Jacob's community at the New England Pentecostal Church in New Hampshire is rallying together to find a solution.

    Members of his congregation united on Sunday to pray over the situation and take up a collection to help the family.

    "I don't want him to feel there is no hope, we do have hope in Jesus," said Margaret Wheaton, a family friend.

    The church pastor says that while it may be true Jacob broke immigration law, in any church, faith is the foundation.

    "Now that they're here we need to have a more humane way of dealing with the situation, and not just automatically deport them," said New England Pentecostal Church Bishop Stanley Choate.

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