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Canada's growing culture of refugee exclusion

Almost 25,000 refugees fight exclusion claims every year, according to a report by two law professors from the University of British Columbia, Ashal Kaushal and Catherine Dauvergne, entitled “The Growing Culture of Exclusion: Trends in Canadian Refugee Exclusions.

Jose Figueroa (background) addresses a crowd to fight his deportation order. His daughters, Ruby and Esmeralda (pictured above) would also be affected and might face danger in El Salvador if he is deported. Photo by Lee Williams

Jason Wong came from China as a refugee in 1987 to avoid aborting his child, who was conceived out of wedlock – as family law at the time persecuted unplanned babies. That baby, born in Vancouver, is now a 25-year old student who currently supports Wong, as he cannot legally work in Canada since he was given a deportation order in 1989.

His daughter, Susan Wong, said the Canadian government could not deport her father because his documents were lost within the non-digital system of the 1980s. “He couldn’t stay and he couldn’t leave,” Wong said. “So he doesn’t have identity in either places.”

The father and daughter duo’s names have been changed since they are currently fighting the deportation and fear exposing their story would influence Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).

But Wong is not alone. Almost 25,000 refugees fight exclusion claims every year, according to a report by two law professors from the University of British Columbia, Ashal Kaushal and Catherine Dauvergne, entitled “The Growing Culture of Exclusion: Trends in Canadian Refugee Exclusions.

Just like Wong, when Jose Figueroa, a Salvadoran refugee, received his deportation order, his first thought was how his Canadian-born children’s lives would change forever.

“If the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Immigration were in this room today I would ask them: why are you deporting Canadian children?” Jose Figueroa’s son, Jose Ivan Figuerora,15, posed this question to a roaring crowd of 120 people at a community supper organized by the anti-racist group No One Is Illegal on Nov.26.

Jose Figueroa (far left) with his son, Jose Ivan Figueroa (second to left) seek help from Canadians to let their family stay in Langley, BC. Photo: Lee Williams

Figueroa was given a deportation order based on his student activism more than 20 years ago in El Salvador. The organization he was involved in, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, has become a legal party in 1992 and formed government since then.

When he spoke after his son at the community supper, Figueroa likened his involvement with the FMLN to a person who stands up against bullying. He recalled his friend named Juan Valladares, who helped him fight his bullies in elementary school. Always a champion of the underdog, he later got involved with the liberation movement of the FMLN and was burnt to death by Salvadoran military. He accused the Canadian government of flipping the script – of “categorizing a group” as terrorist, when he and Valladares were the ones protecting the Salvadoran people against a government “using a death squad to control the people.”

The FMLN is still part of the elected coalition party. “The Canadian government has diplomatic relations with El Salvador,” Figueroa said. “The legal basis to bring in any Salvadoran that is a member of FMLN to admissibility processes doesn’t make any sense,” he added.

The allegation against Figueroa as a terrorist is challenging –  as it is for anyone pinned with the label. “Despite its frequent invocation by politicians, the public, and even the judiciary in the context of asylum seekers, the word ‘terrorism’ does not appear in the [United Nations] 1951 Convention and is not a listed ground of exclusion,” Kaushal and Dauvergne state in their report. “There is no internationally ac­cepted legal definition of terrorism.”

Figueroa moved to BC 15 years ago and has worked for two different factories for ten and five years respectively, despite formerly working as a teacher in El Salvador before migrating. He fears for the safety of his children, especially his eldest autistic son, if they had to move to El Salvador. “There are a lot of gangs, they also don’t know the language very well. They could have some problems adapting,” he said.

Even though only he and his wife were given the deportation order, it signifies the deportation of  the entire family to Figueroa. He said “the end result” would be that his Canadian-born son and two daughters would be stripped of their rights to citizenship. “We’re not just going to leave them here,” Figueroa said.

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