The family of a Jamaican immigrant in Shirley had reason to celebrate Friday after federal officials granted a temporary reprieve and halted his detention, allowing him to return home to his wife, an ailing daughter and four other children.
Pernell Mitchell, 45, was released late Friday from the Suffolk County jail in Riverhead, in time to celebrate the 12th birthday of his daughter Melissa, who is being treated for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
The decision bought time for the family to seek legal remedies to Mitchell's residency status but does not clear the case, immigration officials said.
"It's just good to have him coming back," said Judith Mitchell, 43, his wife of 17 years. "I know some people that maybe won't sleep tonight because they'll be so happy," she said, smiling at her three boys and two girls, ages 4 to 15.
Pernell Mitchell, a clerk and truck driver at a rent-to-own store in Riverhead, had been held for three weeks, since a Jan. 24 traffic stop in Southampton.
He was driving an uninsured and unregistered vehicle as he returned from work when he was stopped by police, and he faces a forgery charge stemming from his invalid driver's license. The arrest uncovered the deportation warrant from U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, which seeks to remove immigrants in the country illegally.
Khaalid Walls, an ICE spokesman, confirmed that the agency placed Mitchell "into supervised release."
"He currently has a final order of removal from an immigration judge and will be required to report regularly while the agency makes preparations for his removal," Walls said.
Bryan Johnson, an immigration attorney in Bay Shore who donated legal services, pleaded with the agency on Mitchell's behalf, saying he is not a criminal offender who should be the target of the federal government's efforts.
Mitchell came to the United States about 10 years ago on a student visa, which expired after three years as he was waiting on another visa request, his wife and Johnson said. He had never before been arrested, they said, and is the sole provider and the only driver in the household. Three of the couple's five children are U.S. citizens by birth.
"He's the one that works and drives and takes care of us," said Melissa, a sixth-grader at William Floyd Middle School who needs chemotherapy three times a week. "I'm happy we're getting him back, because he's never missed any of my birthdays."
The case exemplifies the aggressive enforcement that has racked up record deportations under President Barack Obama, Johnson said.
"The immigration enforcement priorities of ICE should not take precedence over a child who needs her dad when she's battling for her life," he said. "They have put a dragnet for anyone that gets arrested, regardless of whether it's a serious crime."