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Canada is deporting more people faster, drawing concern from migrant advocates

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For eight years, Tareq Abuznaid has called Canada his home. His parents work here. His siblings go to school.

But now, he fears he'll become a statistic.

The 19-year-old said he and his family who, except for his young brother, do not currently have Canadian citizenship, received notice in August that they must leave the country.

Abuznaid said he's facing a threat of deportation back to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where he was born, amid a two-month war that has left more than 1,200 Israelis and 16,200 Palestinians dead, according to authorities on both sides.

Meanwhile, Abuznaid said the rest of his family is being threatened with deportation back to Chile, where his parents have citizenship, which he also called "dangerous" because of the discrimination they faced while there.

"The government wants to deport us for basically no reason and my fear is that my family will be separated," he told CTV National News in an interview Thursday.

"They will be deported back to Chile in South America and I will be deported back to Palestine in the West Bank, (where) a genocide is currently happening. And … it's just basically a death sentence for both me and my family."

Cases like these are becoming increasingly common, advocates say.

At a virtual press conference Thursday, they sounded the alarm about the rise in deportations in Canada and called on the federal government to follow through on its 2021 promise to expand a regularization program for undocumented people living in this country.

The Migrant Rights Network, a national coalition of 40 organizations fighting for migrant rights and justice, said based on Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) data it received through access to information requests, 7,032 people were deported from Canada in the first half of 2023 alone — on track to far exceed the number of deportations for the entirety of 2021 and 2022.

Canada on average has deported 39 people a day so far this year, said Mary Gellatly, a community legal worker (CTV News graphic)

On average, this amounts to 39 people being deported from Canada each day so far this year, said Mary Gellatly, a community legal worker at Parkdale Community Legal Services. By comparison, an average of 21 people were deported per day in 2021 and 23 people were deported per day in 2022, she noted.

"The results are really alarming," Gellatly said at the press conference.

"Many of these people could have avoided the horrendous experience of deportation if the government had moved on its 2021 promise to regularize undocumented people."

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marc Miller holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Canada's immigration minister said he's committed to addressing the issue in the months ahead.

"The promise remains," Marc Miller said at another, unrelated press conference Thursday, referring to the government's commitment to expand its regularization program.

"I think that Canada needs to move forward with a path to regular migration and it's something that I've committed to take in front of cabinet in the spring. But it isn't a foregone conclusion and it is not one that comes without costs or without considerations of other factors."

Advocates believe there are as many as half a million undocumented people living in Canada, including asylum seekers, former international students, migrant workers and their children.

Many of these people work "extremely hard" to regularize their immigration status in order to stay here, said Swathi Sekhar, an immigration and refugee lawyer and director of protection initiatives at Rainbow Railroad.

"But … this is often in vain, because our system does not offer a viable, straightforward pathway to permanent residence for the vast majority of people who come to this country," she added.

The Abuznaid family is seen in this handout photo. Tareq Abuznaid says his family has lived in Canada for eight years, but is now receiving a threat of deportation. (Courtesy of Tareq Abuznaid)

Syed Hussan, who is the executive director of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, has long been calling for full and permanent immigration status for all in Canada. He said deportations are the result of policy failures on the part of the federal government.

"It is incredibly absurd and unfair that people are being deported today who may be regularized tomorrow. Families are being ripped apart, communities are being shattered," Hussan said at the press conference.

Rajan Gupta had hoped to stay in Montreal, where he lived for years. But he said his refugee claim application was declined and he was recently deported back to India, where he faces threats from his ex-brother-in-law.

"I worked in Canada for five years. I did everything right. I did not commit any crime. I did everything that I needed to do. I helped people a lot," said Hussan, who translated for Gupta at the press conference on increased deportations.

Gupta said he also wasn't allowed to close his Canadian bank account or take most of his belongings with him upon deportation.

"I was not able to take anything back with me. I only brought a small bag. All my money, all my clothes are still in Montreal," he said, adding he's been experiencing depression ever since.

Gupta is now pleading to the federal government in hopes that he will be able to return to Canada.

"Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau made a promise. He said that he would regularize everyone. He said that he would ensure rights for everyone. I'm saying to him to bring us back, bring back the people that he deported. We are human beings."

Abuznaid, who fears for his family's future, made a similar plea.

"I demand that Justin Trudeau should stop all deportations and give his promise to give permanent residency to all migrants and undocumented people."

Correction

A previous version of this story erroneously reported Rajan Gupta's humanitarian and compassionate application was declined. This has been corrected to reflect it was his refugee claim application that was declined. 

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