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Opportunity Lives Here

Deportation order withdrawn for man who sought asylum in church for 2 years

Jose Figueroa granted permanent residency after nearly two decades in Canada

An El Salvador national who took refuge in a Langley, British Columbia church after being found criminally inadmissible to Canada in 2013 has been granted Canadian permanent residency just in time to rejoin his family for the holidays.

On Monday, December 21st, Jose Figueroa was officially notified that Canada Border Services Agency had cancelled his arrest warrant and deportation order, thanks to an exemption from new Canadian Immigration Minister John McCallum. Figueroa received a letter from Citizenship and Immigration Canada informing him that his application for permanent residence could now be processed.

Since 1997, the 49 year-old Figueroa has resided in Lower Mainland British Columbia, working to support his wife and their three children, including a son with autism. But his status in Canada was jeopardized when Canadian immigration authorities learned—by Figueroa’s s own admission—of his involvement in student revolutionary activity in El Salvador during a civil war in the 1980s. In May of 2010, he was found criminally inadmissible to Canada, and in October of 2013 he sought asylum in Walnut Grove Lutheran Church.

Under Canadian immigration law, political dissidence is one of several grounds for criminal inadmissibility. Immigration officials cited Figueroa’s connections to the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), claiming that the group is involved in terrorism.

The facts are more complicated, however. Although the FMLN had mounted opposition to a military government endorsed by the United States, the organization has never been identified as a terrorist group by the Canadian federal government. The unrest in El Salvador ended with a 1992 peace agreement, and in 2009 the FMLN brought about democratic elections.

Humanitarian and compassionate grounds

Minister McCallum ruled that there were “sufficient humanitarian and compassionate considerations” weighing in Figueroa’s favour. The good news arrives 18 years after his arrival on Canadian soil.

“I don’t know how I’m going to do it, to get out and finally breathe some freedom—liberation,” Figueroa told media representatives in a phone interview on Tuesday.

Figueroa’s freedom has been hard-won. Despite pressure from a high-profile support campaign called “We are Jose,” including politicians, university faculty, students, celebrities, and members of the public, the Conservative government’s successive Ministers of Immigration never rescinded either Figueroa’s deportation order or arrest warrant.

Supporter Sasha Wood calls the previous government’s inaction “mean-spirited.”

Says Wood, “Jose was president of the student union, he wasn’t a war criminal.” Wood adds, “We banged on every single door, we had people going to the minister, delivering letters themselves personally, and nobody would budge on it.”

Even legal measures did not expedite government action. In a July Federal Court hearing, Judge Richard Mosley ruled against the immigration minister. Figueroa won a judicial review which established that he was never involved in armed activity. Rather, Figueroa had raised student awareness and helped recruit FMLN members to help change the political situation in his home country.

Assisting in the case was University of British Columbia Professor Maxwell Cameron, who corroborated that Figueroa’s revolutionary work did not constitute a terrorist threat to democracy. Rather, Cameron maintains that Figueroa was part of a popular insurrection suppressed by a “bloodthirsty” military regime.

In Cameron’s words, to label Figueroa a terrorist “goes against the historical record and exposes the lack of nuance in the application of our legislation.”

Richard Kurland, an authority on immigration policy, has commented on the different attitudes and positions of the previous and current federal governments. “It looks like it was a priority for the new government to fix this. Under the former government, law-and-order trumped compassion.”

Ultimately, Figueroa stands by his decision to stay in Canada even under threat of deportation, He says it was his “best option in order to be close to [his] family,” and adds, “I don’t regret having had to take in sanctuary. Not at all.”

For information about inadmissibility to Canada, contact First Immigration Law Firm toll-free @ 1-855-360-4333.