A Vancouver Island mother says immigration officials — and an honest mistake — are keeping her separated from her son in the Philippines.
Divina Domingo, 31, is a landed immigrant who has been trying to sponsor her seven-year-old son to come to Canada for the last three years.
But her application has been denied and appeals to Immigration Canada have been rejected because of a regulation that states any family member not declared when you become a landed immigrant will not be able to be sponsored in the future.
Regulation 117(9)(d) was implemented in 2002 and was designed to deter those who want to deliberately mislead immigration. Between January and September of 2012, at least 307 family sponsorships were denied because of this regulation.
Domingo says she was not aware of the strict regulation and therefore the family failed to declare her son twice: first, when her own mother originally filed an application to sponsor her to come to Canada, and later when she arrived in Canada in 2009.
'I didn't know'
Domingo herself was just two years old when her mother left the Philippines in the 1980s and came to Canada under the live-in caregiver program. She cared for Canadian children and eventually saved enough money to sponsor her own grown children.
When her mother submitted the application for sponsorship in 2005, she says she was not aware she was about to become a grandmother.
"My mom sponsored us, my brother and my sister and then … when our papers are processing I got pregnant," Domingo told CBC News. "I got pregnant and I didn’t know I can declare my son. I didn’t know."
By the time Domingo finally arrived in Canada, her son was already three years old. But again, Domingo failed to declare him as a dependent child.
"They’re thinking that I lied and that it’s intentional — that I didn’t declare my son — but it wasn’t," she said.
Domingo works as a factory worker and a house cleaner in Saanichton and regularly sends money to her son, who lives with relatives in a one-room house in the Philippines.
Vancouver immigration lawyer Catherine Sas says regulation 117(9)(d) is a punitive and harsh law that keeps families separated for life.
"I think this is an extremely heartless provision," she told CBC News.
"There are other ways to deal with people who are misrepresented. If somebody has not been truthful, their application can be denied, they can be stripped of their permanent resident status."
Immigration Canada can make exceptions to any regulation on compassionate and humanitarian grounds, but Domingo’s appeals have been denied. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was unavailable for an interview because of a surprise visit to Iraq.
His department sent a statement saying their records show Domingo’s mother applied to sponsor her daughter five months after her grandson was born, and that the family provided false information.
Domingo says that is not correct, and that the discrepancy is likely because it took years for their papers to be processed.
Immigration officials have also said that "a highly-trained officer has determined that the best interests of the child are being satisfactorily met under the current circumstances."
Elizabeth May, Green Party Leader and MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, has asked Kenney to reconsider Domingo’s case. She said that family reunification should be a priority for Immigration Canada.
"I'm still hoping and begging on a regular basis that they will extend compassionate and humanitarian grounds to allow a small child to rejoin his mother," May said.
"Miscommunication and early mistakes in the documentation are keeping this little boy outside of Canada."
Domingo says her greatest fear is that her son, John, will grow up without a mother.
"My son needs his mother because me, myself, I grew up without a mother," she said.
"I know how hard it is to grow up without a mother. That's why I’m doing my best to be with my son. I want him here."