Refugee claimant ordered deported after 13 years
Supporters of a Salvadoran refugee are outraged at a federal adjudicator's ruling that he be deported because of his membership in what the government calls a terrorist organization.
Otto Nupponen, of the Immigration and Refugee board, ruled earlier this month that Jose Figueroa must return to his native El Salvador because he was once a member of the guerrilla group FMLN, which fought a brutal civil war with the country's right-wing government in the 1980s.
Nupponen said in his May 5 decision that Figueroa was "inadmissible on security grounds for having been a member of a particular type of organization … that is, an organization that is engaged in terrorism."
Figueroa, who has been in Canada since 1997, admitted being a member of the FMLN political wing, but denied taking part in any attacks or fighting between the guerrillas and government forces.
His supporters, such as UBC professor Jerry Spiegel, say the FMLN was emphatically not a terrorist group.
"To call this terrorism is to make a mockery of the language," said Spiegel, who researches Latin America with the Liu Institute for Global Issues. "It tarnishes the good name of Canada in Latin America."
But in his ruling, Nupponen concluded that the organization carried out some politically motivated attacks on Salvadoran mayors, including intimidation and murders. He concluded that there was a likelihood that the organization engaged in terrorism.
"In my mind, there is no doubt that the FMLN did conduct a campaign of intimidation of mayors that were perceived not to be working in the best interests of what the objectives of the group were at that particular time," Nupponen wrote.
Under Canadian immigration law, Figueroa's membership in a group that engaged in terrorism is enough to bar him from Canada, Nupponen wrote.
Figueroa, his wife, and three children, are now ordered out of the country after living here for 13 years. Last year, the Canadian Border Services Agency used Figueroa's admitted membership in the FLMN as evidence to declare him inadmissible to Canada.
After a peace agreement ended the country's long, bloody civil war in 1992, the FMLN was elected as El Salvador's government.
The organization has never been placed on Ottawa's list of terrorist groups and Nupponen acknowleged that "at this point in time, it could hardly be said that the organization currently would be seen as a terrorist organization, although I haven't looked at that aspect in the context of this hearing."
NDP MP Peter Julian told CTV News that Figueroa is the kind of person Canada should welcome: he has been an active member of his local church, teaching Spanish classes and helping members of the congregation prepare for aid missions to Mexico and Nicaragua.
"I am not a terrorist," Figueroa told CTV News. "El Salvador is not a country of terrorists. Why is Canada treating us that way? Why is Canada doing this to our family?"
In the 1980s, Figueroa was studying to be a teacher, graduating in 1992, the same year as a peace deal was signed, he said.