Canada: Salvadoran faces cruel, bizarre deportation

July 21, 2013
Jose Figueroa.

“The Canadian government is forcing me to divorce my wife.” With these words, Salvadoran refugee and long-time Canadian resident Jose Figueroa sums up the devastatingly cruel situation he and his family find themselves in.

The human rights situation in El Salvador from the 1970s to the '90s was dire. A vicious right-wing military dictatorship, supported financially and morally by the United States government. Widespread murder and torture of innocent people, often through the use of death squads, which were trained in the US.

Almost 80,000 people killed were during the reign of the right-wing ARENA government. Several religious leaders who spoke out for the poor and oppressed were killed — including the still-revered then-archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero.

On the other side was the the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) — a popular broad-based coalition of civil society and guerillas who came together to fight the repressive dictatorship.

In an era where elections were a sham, this broadly supported group fought for justice. It eventually forced the government to the negotiating table. The peace accords signed in 1992 officially ended the conflict.

Many of those associated with the FMLN were forced to flee during the conflict in fear of their lives. Many went to nations such as Australia and Canada. One was Figueroa.

Figueroa and his wife Ivania live in Langley, British Columbia. He is a loving father of three and a productive member of the community. He has lived in Canada for almost 16 years. As a student leader at a university in El Salvador, he spoke out against the repression he saw around him.

This made Figueroa a target of the government — putting his life in danger.

Figueroa was upfront with Canadian immigration officials regarding his association with the FMLN. He declared that, in his role as a student leader, he advocated for the group. Canada accepted him with full knowledge of this.

In what amounts to a jaw-dropping revision of history, the Canadian government has now decided that Figueroa should be deported for advocating for a “terrorist” group. Despite admitting that Figueroa was never a combatant, the Canadian government has made the decision that his advocacy for the FMLN makes him unable to live in Canada and will seek to deport him.

Under Canadian immigration law, anyone who tries to overthrow a government by force, or encourages others to do so, is barred from living in the country. As Figueroa’s lawyer said recently on Vancouver radio: “If Nelson Mandela was not already an honourary citizen of Canada, I could not defend a deportation order against him under Canadian law.”

Under these laws, not only can Figueroa be deported but so can Ivania. A recent decision by Canadian immigration minister Jason Kenney to lift the deportation order on Ivania was accompanied by the staggeringly cold‐hearted reassurance that, “Jose can still play a prominent role in his children’s lives from El Salvador — via Skype.”

Making this situation even more bizarre is the fact the FMLN is now the ruling party in El Salvador, democratically elected in 2009. Canada has full diplomatic relations with this government and even sent a senior minister to the inauguration of the FMLN-backed President Mauricio Funes.

Several prominent members of the government recently came to Canada for talks and Canada is trying to negotiate a free trade agreement with this “terrorist group”! All of which leaves the Canadian public extremely cynical about government proclamations of keeping the country free of terrorists.

Many Salvadorans in Canada, and other refugees, are concerned about these immigration laws sweeping up innocent people such as the Figueroas and declaring them “terrorists”.

Figueroa is the sole bread winner in his family. One of his three children has autism and Ivania also has severe medical issues. The family is swimming in debt from the legal fight he has had to pursue to avoid deportation.

It is to Canada’s shame that its once proud record of helping refugees has been tarnished by the Conservative Stephen Harper government. Canadian supporters of the Figueroas call on the global community to expose the heartless bid to deport Figueroa and tarnish the sacrifice so many immigrants have made in the pursuit of justice and human rights.

[A global campaign has been set up to help reverse the Canadian government’s deportation order on Figueroa. Visit for information on the campaign, to sign a petition and donate money to the Figueroa family.]

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