Salvadoran refugee heads to Ottawa for relief
Jose Figueroa is seen in this undated photo taken from video.
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, March 18, 2011 6:28AM EDT
VANCOUVER - With the Tories on the verge of an election, a Salvadoran father and refugee claimant who helped guerilla forces resist a brutal dictatorship in the Latin American country is heading to Ottawa to press the prime minister on immigration.
Jose Figueroa and his 12-year-old son depart from Vancouver Friday on a cross-Canada bus tour, aiming to raise awareness about flaws in immigration law.
The final destination is Ottawa, where they hope to present a 1,300-name petition to politicians and gain a reversal on a deportation order handed down to him last May.
The father of three, who's lived in Langley, B.C. for more than 13 years, was devastated after immigration officials suddenly reviewed his pending refugee claim and declared he was inadmissable.
The Immigration and Refugee Board argued he's a threat to national security because he admitted to membership in a rebel group, the FMLN, during a civil war in the 1980s.
But Canada now recognizes the FMLN as the democratic government of El Salvador, and so Figueroa and his supporters have been actively working to get the truth out, while pleading with the Public Safety Minister to make an exemption.
"It's a mistake, it's clear to me from everything I've learned," said Sasha Wood, a B.C. woman who helped spearhead the "We are Jose" campaign after meeting the man and hearing his story.
She said pinning a "terrorist" label on someone like Figueroa is the same as demonizing the youth who have recently led uprisings in Libya against dictator Moammar Gadhafi. In El Salvador, the U.S.-backed right wing military government sent death squads to terrorize the people.
"It's the same situation, and so to deport him -- it's one of those things where you know it's a mistake and you have to keep speaking out to get it fixed, you can't let it go."
Hundreds of supporters agree, including B.C. MPs, academics, student groups, the vice-president of the Salvadoran National Assembly and even actor and activist Martin Sheen.
Yet Figueroa has been told he could be waiting seven to nine years to learn if he'll be granted ministerial relief.
"The Canadian government has been dragging this (on) for a long time ... this situation is dragging me to my knees," Figueroa said in an email. "The only thing that keeps me fighting is the fact that the rights and the future of my family and my community is something worth fighting for."
While he recognizes an election is imminent, several politicians have already pledged to help the man and suggest they will present his petition to Parliament when the timing is right.
Supporters are hoping his tour galvanizes voters.
"So many immigrants and refugees live in Canada that hopefully this will become an election issue, so people will become more aware and engaged," Wood said.
The tour will be funded with the help of donors and plans to make pit stops in major cities across the country.
Immigration officials say they can't discuss details of the case because it's a private matter.