Campaign asks Ottawa to nix B.C. father's deportation
Jose Figueroa is seen in this undated photo taken from video.
The Canadian Press
Published Monday, January 10, 2011 6:27AM EST
VANCOUVER - Thirteen years have passed since Jose Figueroa escaped vicious death threats and a gunfire attack in his Latin American homeland for backing guerilla forces that opposed a murderous regime.
Even as a new peace dawned, the Salvadoran was forced to flee, arriving in Canada with high hopes of turning a refugee claim into citizenship.
He and his wife joined a church, went to work, had three babies, and paid for any medical bills from their own pockets while awaiting acceptance from the authorities.
It appeared the fresh start he had helped bring to his country was just around the corner for his own life, too.
Instead, the 43-year-old was suddenly ordered deported. Last May, immigration officials made an out-of-the-blue decision that his decades-old links to the revolutionaries made him a national security threat.
A mounting group of supporters who have met the Langley, B.C. man or heard his story are now growing even louder in demanding that Ottawa reverse the decision. They've launched a social media campaign and will hold rallies across the country this coming Sunday.
"What's at stake here of course is not only Jose, his wife and three kids, but also the future relationship between Canada and El Salvador and the unknown victims of this situation -- the future candidates that will apply to Canada," said Laura Avalos, president of the Salvadorian Canadian Association of Ottawa.
The guerrillas who Figueroa once helped, called the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, are now a political party and El Salvador's democratically-elected government.
Avalos is among several organizers of the "We are Jose" campaign, which is pushing for Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews to grant the man a deportation exemption. But they've been told it could take another five or six years to get an answer.
"The impact is horrible, the stress is an everyday thing for him," said Sasha Wood, a B.C. woman with no connections to El Salvador who's dedicated herself to keeping the family intact.
She and more than 1,000 other supporters assert the government has erred by characterizing the FMLN as a group that engaged in terrorist activities, rather than rose up against a U.S.-backed dictatorship that deployed death squads.
A United Nations Truth Commission reported 85 per cent of violence was indeed perpetrated by agents of the state, with only five per cent by the FMLN.
The campaign is requesting word by Jan. 16, a date which marks the 19th anniversary of peace accords that finally ended the civil war where upwards of 80,000 Salvadorans perished. Canada explicitly supported the UN, which helped broker the deal in 1992.
"I live in Canada, I can clearly see it's a mistake, and it's like, none of us (supporters) can stop until it's right, because we know it's wrong," Wood said.
Vigils for the cause will be held next Sunday in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Langley, B.C., as well as outside the Canadian embassy in the capital city of San Salvador. The public is also encouraged to upload video statements of support to YouTube, stating "I am Jose."
"By honouring his case and giving him the exemption, we are continuing the peace process in El Salvador," Avalos said. "And on the contrary, (right now) Canada is not respecting the peace agreement."
Figueroa's supporters range from B.C. MPs, to actor and activist Martin Sheen, to student groups, university professors, his children's teachers and the vice-president of the Salvadoran National Assembly.
Immigration officials say they can't discuss details of the case because it's a private matter.