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Mastic man faces deportation under stricter ICE enforcement

The Mitchell famly at their home in Mastic

The Mitchell famly at their home in Mastic on Jan. 27, 2018. In the front row are sons Patrick, left, Philip and Pernell; in the middle, mother Judith and father Pernell; at top, daughters Melissa and Lisa. Credit: Ed Betz

A Mastic man from Jamaica, who stayed in the United States after he was ordered deported for violating terms of a student visa, is expected to report to immigration officials Wednesday in Manhattan to face the prospect of deportation.

Pernell Mitchell, 49, has been on supervised release by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement since February 2014, when he was detained after a traffic stop in Southampton.

At his last check-in with the agency in January, Mitchell said in an interview, he was told that his time was up and he needed either to make arrangements to leave or to surrender to federal immigration officers.

His case, among others that have surfaced across the nation, reflects revised immigration enforcement policies under President Donald Trump, as the administration has vowed not to make exceptions for deportable immigrants.

Mitchell — a father of five who works two jobs, one as a maintenance worker at a sports facility and the other at a public school — said he hopes the agency will consider the fact that he came here legally, as well as his history and circumstances, and allow him to stay.

He and his wife, Judith, 47, brought their two daughters when they came to the United States in 2004, originally settling in the Atlanta area. The couple has had three sons since, all born in the United States.

“I’m looking at the broad picture, you know, how do you walk away from your family when you know you are the one to fund the financial responsibility and the obligations?” Pernell Mitchell said. “I just bought this house and to walk away from it. How do I deal with this when that day shows up? I just don’t know. I just don’t know.”

The federal government says it is enforcing immigration laws evenly.

“As ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan has made clear, ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” said a statement from ICE. “All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”

Mitchell’s immigration problems started after he took jobs outside what was allowed for his visa category. He arrived in Atlanta on a student visa as he enrolled in a program at Carver College to complete his bachelor’s in Biblical Studies, planning to become a pastor. In 2007, he said he acted on bad advice from a lawyer and took work doing maintenance and as a mechanic near Atlanta, thereby violating temporary employment provisions that stipulated he work only in his area of study.

With that case pending, Mitchell moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to serve as a church pastor there and applied for a religious visa, which was denied. In 2010, ICE said, a federal immigration judge ordered him deported. Mitchell said he was not at that hearing because he did not know he was required to attend.

After that, he and his family moved to Long Island in 2011 to seek work.

A January 2014 traffic stop in Southampton put Mitchell on ICE’s radar. He was jailed for three weeks, then freed on supervised release with the requirement of annual check-ins with immigration officials.

Officials at Carver College and the churches in Georgia and Missouri with which Mitchell said he formerly was affiliated did not return calls from Newsday.

The more stringent application of immigration laws is part of a policy realignment outlined in a February 2017 memorandum by John Kelly, then secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and now Trump’s chief of staff. That guidance, intended “to serve the national interest,” did away with November 2014 directives from the administration of former President Barack Obama, which permitted a range of discretionary enforcement decisions.

Cheryl Keshner, a senior paralegal with the nonprofit Empire Justice Center in Central Islip, has been trying to help the Mitchells. They have been a model of good conduct, she said, and deserve a chance after growing roots here.

Mitchell works two jobs, from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., five days a week. His wife, who is allowed to stay in the country under prosecutorial discretion as she cares for their children, works at a school cafeteria and recently got her teaching assistant certificate.

Their older daughter, Lisa, 19, works as a cashier. Their 15-year-old daughter, Melissa, is in high school and hoping for a career in music therapy. The three boys, ages 8, 10 and 12, are in school.

“We’ve got a family of seven here,” Keshner said. “If you remove somebody like Mr. Mitchell, you are probably going to have a home lost in the community, you are going to have lost a contribution to a local economy and, more than that, you have a family torn apart.”

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