A long-time Langley resident is waiting for a judge’s decision regarding his possible deportation following a judicial review hearing held on May 26.
José Figueroa entered Canada legally 17 years ago, but was forced to seek sanctuary in the Walnut Grove Lutheran Church last October when Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officials began removal proceedings.
On the phone from the church, the El Salvadoran asylum-seeker told the Straight that he fails to fully understand why he is being targeted for deportation.
“My children were all born here in Canada,” he emphasized. “My oldest is 16, I have a 10-year-old girl, and I have a seven-year-old girl. And at this point, we are facing the family being split.”
Figueroa explained that Citizenship and Immigration Canada claims his former status as a member of El Salvador’s Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) means he is in Canada in violation of section 34 of the Canadian Immigration Act.
A relevant subsection states: “A permanent resident or a foreign national is inadmissible on security grounds for…being a member of an organization that there are reasonable grounds to believe engages, has engaged or will engage in acts referred to in paragraph (a), (b), (b.1) or (c).” Those paragraphs refer to espionage, subversion, terrorism, and "being a danger to the security of Canada".
But Figueroa said that he openly declared his association with the FMLN to Canadian immigration officials when he entered the country in 1997. He also noted that the FMLN now constitutes El Salvador’s democratically elected government, and that the political party enjoys a membership that numbers more than 100,000 people.
“What the CBSA is trying to do right now is muzzle me,” Figueroa charged. “I have been very vocal about the issues around this deportation, and they don’t like that we are pointing out these problems.”
CBSA declined the Straight’s request for an interview. An emailed statement provided by spokesperson Jennifer Lee emphasizes that Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board has found Figueroa inadmissible to Canada.
It adds that while a warrant for Figueroa’s arrest remains outstanding, a federal judge has granted a stay of removal until the case works its way through the courts.
Representing Figueroa is Peter Edelmann. In a telephone interview, he told the Straight that the May 26 hearing concerned a review of an earlier decision to deny Figueroa an application to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. The judge can decide to uphold that decision, or overturn it and send the matter back for arbitration, Edelmann said.
Figueroa has also appealed for an exemption with the Department of Public Safety, Edelmann continued.
He said he also fails to see why the federal government is exerting the resources that it is on attempts to remove Figueroa from the country.
“It would have been very easy for either of the ministers to put an end to this a long time ago,” Edelmann maintained. “I don’t really understand why they’ve decided to pick this fight.”
According to Edelmann, the larger issues of concern are the unchecked discretionary powers of bureaucrats, and a failure to uniformly apply regulations. For example, he said, Canadian immigration officials have never used the immigration act against an American soldier that might have been involved in crimes on the battlefield.
“This is an illustration of the overbreadth of section 34,” he explained. “It’s a broader, systemic problem of an enormous amount of discretion being put in the hands of officers with devastating consequences for people.”
Figueroa’s next hearing date is scheduled for July 2.