Refugee claimant ordered out after 13 years in Canada
A man from El Salvador who has lived in Canada for 13 years and has three Canadian children has been ordered out of the country because of his political activities two decades ago.
Supporters of Jose Figueroa say the removal order is particularly rankling because border guards have ruled he belonged to a terrorist organization – even though now that same organization is the country's democratically elected government.
"It makes the people of the congregation absolutely shake their heads," said Dr. Karl Keller, the pastor at Figueroa's Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley, B.C. "How can this be in a country like Canada?"
Figueroa and his wife left El Salvador in 1997 and claimed refugee status in Canada. They got jobs in Metro Vancouver and had three children, three-year-old Ruby, six-year-old Esmerelda, and 12-year-old Jose Ivan, who has been diagnosed with autism.
Their refugee claim was denied in 2000 on the grounds they weren't convention refugees. The family appealed the ruling on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, and the application started to be processed in 2004.
Figueroa didn't hear a decision, and assumed he was allowed to stay. But then he was asked for an interview by the Canadian Border Services Agency in 2009.
In December, he found out the agent had recommended that he be ruled inadmissible to Canada because of his membership in a leftist resistance group called the FMLN while he was in El Salvador in the early 1990s.
"The FMLN is an organization that there are reasonable grounds to believe is or was engaged in terrorism and/or subversion," wrote CBSA officer Ward Hindson.
On May 5th, Figueroa was ordered out of Canada on the strength of that recommendation.
"For many years we have been working in a community and trying to take our son to succeed in this society," Figueroa said. "And all of a sudden, everything we have done is gone."
He says the CBSA hasn't considered how times have changed in El Salvador – peace was declared in 1992, and democratic elections have been held since then. Last year, the FMLN won the election.
Figueroa says that means a member of El Salvador's ruling party, theoretically, wouldn't be allowed in Canada.
"FMLN is a democratic government as recognized by the Canadian government," said Figueroa. "But they are saying it's a terrorist organization? Who is lying?"
Complicating matters further is a remark in Figueroa's original refugee decision by Immigration and Refugee Board member in 2000, who said, "The FMLN is a recognized, legitimate political party."
Figueroa says if he's forced to leave, he will have to take his children with him because he will have to support them in El Salvador.
But his son, Jose Ivan, has autism, only speaks English, and the special schooling he needs is not available in El Salvador.
"That's going to mean that I'll never be able to communicate with anyone in El Salvador," said Jose Ivan. "It's frustrating. Scary."
Figueroa can still apply for judicial review of that case. He can't afford a lawyer, so he's relying on Dr. Keller to help him with the application.
Dr. Keller says everyone at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church prays for hope in Figueroa's case.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Jon Woodward