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How a lost passport may tear apart a B.C. family

Janina Ibarra, right, has lived her entire adult life in Canada, but fears a deportation order will separate her from her husband Eliseo and their two sons.

A Sri Lankan woman who has built her adult life in Canada over the past decade as she lived in immigration limbo, partly because officials lost her passport, says she's terrified her family will be torn apart as she faces a renewed deportation effort.

Janina Ibarra, 31, said she has spent half her life in Canada and was in the final stages of getting permanent residence status when she was picked up by border agents two weeks ago.

She said she and her Canadian husband, Eliseo Ibarra, 35, were on their regular morning commute to the Canadian Bible Society, where she has been working as a clerk for three years. She was detained at the Canada Border Services Agency's Vancouver detention facilities for two nights and three days.

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"I felt scared, terrified and humiliated. I wasn't even allowed to see anybody, including my children, until the hearing, which was two days later," Ms. Ibarra said in an interview. "I'm worried about being separated from my family. My boys have never really been away from me. I'm their primary caregiver. … [We] really feel that we are at the mercy of all these people that have so much power."

Last month, the CBSA obtained a deportation order for her, effective some time in late June or early July. She said she was told the agency had been looking for her since 2012 because her application had gone stagnant.

But Ms. Ibarra couldn't proceed with her application because her Sri Lankan passport was missing, lost somewhere between Canadian and Sri Lankan authorities.

Ms. Ibarra has a letter dated Nov. 19, 2004, from the Sri Lankan consulate in Toronto to the Vancouver enforcement office of the CBSA. The letter notes the office has issued two emergency passports – one for Ms. Ibarra and one for her mother "enabling you to facilitate their deportation."

But Ms. Ibarra said she's been told they never arrived. In a letter sent last Friday to the Sri Lankan High Commission, the agency writes: "Unfortunately, neither the CBSA nor Ms. Colombage Mendis [Ms. Ibarra's maiden name] have been able to locate her expired Sri Lankan passport."

Due to privacy laws, Citizenship and Immigration Canada could not comment on the details of the case without a privacy waiver from Ms. Ibarra. That couldn't be arranged on Monday.

Ms. Ibarra and her parents first came to Vancouver from Sri Lanka to flee civil war in 1999 and immediately applied for refugee protection. It was denied and they then applied for the chance to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. They were denied that, too, and at the end of 2004, Ms. Ibarra and her mother, Lorna Mendis, received the first deportation order.

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Ms. Mendis was deported in November, 2005, but Ms. Ibarra was able to stay based on her permanent resident application. She got to the final stages: All that was left was a medical examination, a criminal record check and valid travel documents from country of origin. But the passport was missing.

Ms. Ibarra said it had been handed over to Canadian Citizenship and Immigration in 1999 with her initial refugee application. It then changed hands from government agency to government agency; Ms. Ibarra says she never physically handled the document after first touching foot on Canadian soil.

Ms. Ibarra said she regularly phoned Canadian Immigration attempting to figure out what to do, but she repeatedly got a message saying: "We are experiencing a higher than normal call volume, please try again later." She said she also got no answers from the Sri Lankan High Commission.

Over the years, she said, she worked as a clerk and an event co-ordinator, filing taxes. She married Eliseo Ibarra, an amateur musician and sawmill worker. She had two sons, who are now 7 and 10. She said she and her husband have spent $25,000 on her permanent residence application and in legal fees over the years.

Now, she's been told if the Sri Lankan High Commission accepts her passport application, she will get it within 10 weeks. Once she has the passport, Ms. Ibarra said she's been told by her Canadian removal officer that she will be deported shortly afterward.

"I feel really helpless," she said. "We always hear that family reunification is first and foremost here in Canada. If so, why not show some compassion?"

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