Pillar of Jackson community fighting deportation due to legal mistake

All due to a mistake with paperwork that their lawyer says is not their fault
“A tragedy. Not just for the Fernandez family but for the community as a whole, let alone the students that we serve. You know, it’s bigger than us.”
Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 9:44 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 3, 2023 at 11:55 PM EST
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JACKSON, Mich. (WILX) - Neil Fernandes created a successful nonprofit that helps troubled teenagers turn their lives around, but now he’s forced to pack up and leave the county.

For the past 12 years, Fernandes has been making a difference in the lives of troubled teenagers. His organization Rise Above has helped approximately 50 students each year turn their lives around. However, a simple mistake in legal paperwork has now led to Fernandes and his family being forced to leave the country and return to Canada.

Whether students have been suspended, expelled or convicted of a crime, Rise Above has been helping them turn things around. Youths who go through the traditional legal system only have a 20% chance of turning their life around. Fernandes said those who go through Rise Above have more than an 80% chance of finding success.

“If they weren’t here, I don’t know where I would be, to be honest,” said Caiden Albert. “Probably not graduating.”

Despite his past, Albert is graduating in May. His life looked incredibly different before coming to Rise Above.

“It changed like my grades and everything big time,” Albert said. “I actually wanted to be at school. When I went to regular school, I used to leave school, like just up and walk out.”

Albert isn’t alone.

“A whole community has become dependent on Rise Above as an option for our most vulnerable students,” Fernandes said. “If Rise Above does not exist, there is nothing else for these students to do.”

The Fernandes family will be departing this Sunday, but Neil Fernandes is determined to fight their deportation. A mistake in the paperwork resulted in their deportation. Fernandes fighting to have their green card application be reconsidered.

“We just want to be put back in the line where we left off,” Fernandes said. “Allow us to complete the process that we had 99% completed already.”

Albert said the Fernandes family plays a crucial role in turning lives around - including his.

“I love being here. That’s really what it is,” Albert said. “I love being here. I love all the people, they’re just like my other family.”

Despite the distance, Fernandes plans to continue volunteering his time online from Canada to help with the Rise Above mission while he fights his deportation. He encourages those who want to help to write to elected officials and ask them to get involved. The mission of Rise Above will continue, even after Fernandes leaves, as he and his team work to make a difference in the lives of troubled teenagers.

You can donate directly to Rise Above on its website or through a GoFundMe set up to help the family.

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