Langley resident fighting deportation claims inconsistent application of immigration law

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      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.


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      May 29, 2014 at 7:41am

      The Immigration Division is the body responsible for making a determination on inadmissibility. CBSA forwarded the allegation and it was ruled that the concerns were well founded by the Immigration Division who issued a removal order. At this point it is the CBSA's DUTY to enforce the law, which means completing the removal of Figueroa.

      The claims that the discretion of Officers is overbearing is a perfect example of why there is an independant tribunal to make decisions in these cases, which it has.


      May 29, 2014 at 5:45pm

      I am familiar with Jose's case, and wanted to clarify a point from the previous commenter. It's a misuse of the law to deport Jose, simply for peacefully participating in a peaceful college group who spoke out against a violent govt regime that killed thousands of civilians.

      There is a problem with the system when someone who did nothing wrong is ordered deported for being a terrorist, when they were a member of a legal student group speaking out against a violent military dictatorship. As Edleman points out, the law is too broad, it was a mistake to refer Jose for an inadmissability hearing, and the Ministers need to intervene to stop the deportation.

      When this section of law came into place the government's promise to the broad law was that if any cases where someone was obviously not a security threat came up the Minister would intervene and not deport them. The Minister has not responded to the official application for an Exemption, after over 4 years. Even though even the adjudicator on the hearing that ordered Jose be deported, clearly said he was not a security threat. There are many problems here, but the main thing is that an innocent person is impacted, has had to pay over 20,000 in legal fees, had his life turned upside down, an endured more stress in 4 years than anyone should ever have to....and the Minister of Immigration or Minister of Public Safety can and should intervene. The fact that the CBSA officers can have such wide discretion to refer persons for deportation is scarey, and the fact that the law is so broad that once someone is referred to an inadmissability hearind there is nothing anyone can do, even Nelson Mandella would be ordered deported under this law. The law states that anyone associated with an opposition movement is inadmissable -so then Jewish was resisters? Students opposing violent dicatorships?!. Immigration experts across Canada acknowledge that this is a problem, it is applied arbitarily. For example many fmln members were admitted to Canada, but occassionaly persons such as Jose who have done nothing wrong are wrongfully referred. Why are peaceful El Salvadoreans arbitarily referred, such as Jose, and why does the Minister refuse to intervene as he is support to.

      The law is meant to be used against terrorists, not human rights supporters, students who spoke peacefully against a violent govt regimes.


      May 30, 2014 at 11:21pm

      During WW2, resistance groups arose in France, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, etc. against the horror of the Nazis. The FMLN have been acknowledged to be no different-a resistance group of ordinary people, desperately coming together to try and stop the slaughter. The government death squads slaughtered whole villages-pregnant women, newborns, and every age in between up to 80 year olds. 5 villages, almost 800 people. In addition, there were 80,000 others slaughtered. There are parents who still search for the bones of those family members dragged from their homes. There are 100,000 refugees from El Salvador in Canada, and most are sympathetic to the FMLN-it was their one desperate hope in a blood soaked land. The Supreme Court stated in July 2013 that refugees cannot be deported merely on association with a group. The FMLN is not a listed entity-which is the "terrorist" list of the Cdn. gov't. The CBSA cannot willy-nilly troll through the El Salvador refugee community "cherry-picking" which innocent persons they are going to throw out. That is why a complaint has been laid before the U.N. High Commission on Refugees. For the CBSA to start dragging grandparents from their homes in handcuffs, simply because they sympathized with the only group that offered them some small desperate hope, would be no less than ethnic cleansing.