Nearly two years after the federal government ordered the deportation of a Salvadoran father who lives in Langley for his past political ties, Canadians rallied across the country to demand a reversal of the order.
Dozens of supporters joined Jose Figueroa and his family on Wednesday outside the office of his local MP, Mark Warawa, in Langley. Members of We Are Jose, a citizens group established two years ago to draw attention to Mr. Figueroa's plight, organized a similar rally outside the Citizenship and Immigration offices in downtown Vancouver. Rallies took place in Toronto and Ottawa as well.
"If the government at the highest levels, both the Ministry of Public Safety and the Ministry of Immigration, were to properly understand Jose's story … I really think they would fix this problem," said Christopher Ian Bennett, a director of We Are Jose and former interim leader of the Green Party of B.C.
Mr. Figueroa and his wife, who both graduated from the University of El Salvador to become teachers, came to Canada in 1997, eventually settling in Langley. Their refugee claim was heard in 1999 and denied in 2000; an appeal was denied in 2004. An application to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds was approved in principle, Mr. Figueroa said, but years of back-and-forth ensued. Meanwhile, Mr. Figueroa got a warehouse job and the couple had three children: a boy and two girls. The boy, the couple's eldest child, now 15, was diagnosed in 2002 with autism. His daughters are eight and five.
It was during an admissibility hearing in May, 2010, that Mr. Figueroa first received news of the deportation order.
"They said because of my relationship with the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front [FMLN] back in the '80s, when I was a student leader at the university, I was inadmissible into Canada," he said in an interview on Wednesday, which was also the 21st anniversary of the signing of an agreement that ended El Salvador's civil war. "According to the CBSA officer, the FMLN was a terrorist organization."
As a member of the student union in his 20s, Mr. Figueroa organized forums and cultural events in support of the FMLN, which opposed the U.S.-backed military dictatorship during the civil war. Mr. Figueroa said he felt a duty to inform students of the government's injustices and educate them on their political options. The FMLN is now the democratically elected governing party of El Salvador, with which Canada has diplomatic relations.
"If the allegations from the Minister of Public Safety were true, that would mean the diplomats from El Salvador are also inadmissible," Mr. Figueroa said. "It doesn't make any sense."
Further, Mr. Figueroa said he disclosed his support for the FMLN when he and his wife applied for refugee status upon arrival in Canada.
"At no point did immigration raise any issues with terrorism at that time," he said.
No one from the CBSA, the agency now responsible for Mr. Figueroa's matter, was available for an interview on Wednesday. However, the agency confirmed in a statement that Mr. Figueroa "has been deemed inadmissible by the Immigration and Refugee Board and is under removal order."
"The decision to remove someone is not taken lightly," the statement said. "Individuals are entitled to various levels of appeal including judicial review. Once due process is complete, persons are expected to abide by our laws and leave Canada or be removed."
In his 15 years as a Canadian resident, Mr. Figueroa has garnered considerable support, even receiving a standing ovation after giving an emotional TED talk in Vancouver in November, 2011.
He says he is worried most about the fate of his children.
"El Salvador is not a place for my kids to have a normal life," he said. "My son, he still needs special needs education. Besides that, they are Canadian citizens. The Canadian government is basically deporting Canadian citizens. What other choices [do we have]? We go and leave the kids here? No way."