Jose Figueroa waits in sanctuary as courts decide his fate

After 16 years living in Langley, Jose Figueroa says he's been forced into sanctuary to avoid being deported and separated from his family. He could find temporary relief from his deportation order if a federal court judge rules in his favour Tuesday.

16-year Canadian resident faces deportation, lives in church

Jose Figueroa sought sanctuary in Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley, B.C., more than two years ago. (Jeremy Allingham/CBC)

After 16 years living in Langley, Jose Figueroa says he's been forced to retreat into sanctuary in order to avoid being deported and separated from his family. The father of three currently resides inside the Walnut Grove Lutheran Church. He has not left the building since October 4th. 

Figueroa spends most of his time on a laptop, e-mailing government officials and trying to build support for the "We Are Jose" movement, which is pushing for him to be able to stay in Canada. The group also wants to see significant changes to Canadian immigration law. 

Figueroa sleeps in a small room right beside the church's boardroom. It measures approximately two by three metres. Aside from Sunday services, the odd exercise group that uses the building and welcome weekend visits from family, the church is empty and quiet.

"I took sanctuary with the possibility to be always close to my family, or I was deported with the chance that I will never see my family again," said Figueroa.

"My rights as an individual, the rights of my family are being violated by the Canadian government."

But this life of solitude could be a thing of the past if a federal court judge decides to stay Canada Border Services Agency's (CBSA) order of deportation Tuesday. That would allow Figueroa to remain in Canada until his next court date which would be a judicial review of his case in federal court in January.

Figueroa says he has become a target of deportation by the CBSA because of his affiliation with the FarabundoMarti National Liberation Front (FMLN) in his native El Salvador. The group was highly involved in the insurrection movement against El Salvador's former military dictatorship. The FMLN currently holds government in the small Central American country. 

The Ministry of Public Safety confirms that neither the FMLN, nor Figueroa are named on its lists of terrorist entities. 

The CBSA, who Figueroa says has been monitoring him from outside the church, declined to be interviewed for this story, but did send a short statement, saying it is simply enforcing a deportation order. 

"Mr. Figueroa is under an enforceable removal order. Once an individual has exhausted all legal avenues of recourse, they are expected to respect our laws and leave Canada or be removed. The CBSA's role is to enforce a removal order."

Figueroa will be anxiously awaiting the court's decision from inside the church's walls. 

"There is a problem in the law and the law is affecting my family, it's splitting us apart," he said.

"Why are they doing this...why?"


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