Community rallies to keep Salvadoran man in B.C.
Jose Figueroa is seen in this undated photo taken from video.
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, October 12, 2010 7:57AM PDT
Supporters of a father of three who's lived in British Columbia for 13 years are rallying the federal government to recognize his revolutionary role in ending civil war in El Salvador, instead of deporting him from Canada.
Letters from academics, local politicians, his children's teachers and citizens from across the country have flooded into the Minister of Public Safety's office in recent weeks, calling for personal intervention in Jose Figueroa's case.
More than 1,000 signatures have also been collected on a petition pledging solidarity for the 43-year-old Langley man, who was declared inadmissible on security grounds in May after living there in peace for years.
"People like (Figueroa) I want in my country," said Sasha Wood, a social worker from New Westminster, B.C., who helped rally the community after hearing his story.
"Someone who would stand up and have the courage to oppose something so unjust as a murderous military dictatorship -- who will stand up and do the right thing."
When Figueroa was a university student two decades ago, he helped recruit citizens to oust the U.S.-backed death squads that the United Nations reports killed upwards of 80,000 people.
But even after Peace Accords were signed in 1992 he got death threats on his life. So the man fled the tiny Latin American country with his wife to Canada, where he made a refugee claim and began raising a family.
Immigration officials dusted off the incomplete file in summer 2009, and in May suddenly raised his membership in the Farabundo MartDi National Liberation Front, or FMLN, as grounds for deportation.
The decision came even as they acknowledged he'd been part of the non-violent efforts, and that a UN Truth Commission reported 85 per cent of violence was perpetrated by agents of the state, with only five per cent by the FMLN.
The organization, which eventually became a political party, won the country's democratic elections in 2009.
While the first goal of Figueroa's supporters is to win him an exemption from the overly broad immigration law, many are also fighting for a greater cause.
"There's this implied view that the organization he was part of was a terrorist organization," said Max Cameron, a University of British Columbia professor who's taught Latin American politics for 25 years.
"It's unfair to treat an organization that was trying to overthrow a very repressive, very violent government as a terrorist organization."
The Tuesday deadline for Figueroa's application for ministerial relief comes as FMLN members celebrate its 30th anniversary at events across Canada.
But those welcomed into Canada after escaping the genocidal atrocities in the 1980s may now face new concerns because of that sweeping immigration law, Cameron said.
"I worry that we're creating, with this legislation, second-class citizens," he said. "People (may be) fearful to express themselves politically because it makes them vulnerable. That's a very sad state for Canadian democracy if that's the direction we're going."
Despite the havoc wreaked on his life for the past six months, Figueroa said he still stands behind his decision to support the FMLN. He said he's gone public so people can decide for themselves.
"We were fighting for social justice, for better living conditions for people, and to stop repression against the population," he said. "You take freedom away from people, you take away their lives."