Calgary

'Depressed and overwhelmed': Immigration snags split Calgary-Cuba family in half

Tito doesn't fully understand the complex process keeping his father and stepbrother thousands of miles away. But the nine-year-old has a message for the political decision makers in charge of the immigration system.

Health issues at Havana embassy have stalled visas and ballooned the cost for this family

Laura Silver and Carlos Gonzalez Trenzado with their son Tito during a family visit in Cuba in April 2017. (Supplied)

Tito doesn't fully understand the complex process keeping his father and stepbrother thousands of miles away. 

But the nine-year-old has a message for the politicians in charge of it.

"The government is really hurtful sometimes," Tito said. "Family is important and they don't understand that."

A growing mountain of delays in the immigration system have left this Canadian-Cuban family in limbo, with no idea when they'll be reunited.

Laura Silver, who lives in Calgary with her son Tito, and Carlos Gonzalez Trenzado were married in Cuba in 2018, and shortly after filed a permanent residency application to have the Cuban half of the blended family move to Canada.

The federal government says the average processing time in the case of a spouse living outside Canada is 12 months. This family has waited 16 — so far. 

"I am depressed and overwhelmed," Silver said.

She's only been able to see her husband three times since they were married.

Carlos Gonzalez Trenzado and Tito pictured in 2018. (Supplied)

Issues at the embassy

Immigration and visa applications in Cuba have been stalled for a year, ever since staffing was reduced at the embassy because of odd health problems. Canadian and U.S. diplomats posted to Havana began complaining of unexplained dizziness, headaches and nausea in the spring of 2017. The cause of the mysterious illnesses has not been determined. Only skeletal services have been in place in the aftermath. 

This embassy curtailment first introduced problems for the family's application last May, when Trenzado and his older son were turned away from an appointment in Havana without warning because of the embassy issues. CBC News spoke to Silver at the time but the issues have persisted.

Then-Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said the workers in Cuba needed to be protected but the government is sensitive to the disarray caused by the situation. 

The embassy reinstated some visa and biometric services in August after months of pushback from people like Silver and Trenzado.  It's still not offering medicals or interviews and the closest offices are in Mexico or Trinidad. It's challenging for Cubans, who almost always require travel permits to enter other countries — meaning they have to obtain a second visa just to complete the process for their Canadian applications.

In early January, the minister's office told CBC News there were no current plans to reopen more processing in Havana. That's still the case.

"Canada recognizes the importance of minimizing the impact of the service reduction on Cuban residents so that they can continue to come to Canada," a statement from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada reads. 

"We will continue to explore other mitigation measures and alternative service channels to improve visa and immigration services offered to Cuban residents."

Slow progress and no communication

In August, Trenzado and his son's medicals were finally completed in Trinidad and "since then, there's been no news," Silver said. 

In October they were sent notice that an interview was required — either in Trinidad or Mexico. When she asks for an update on scheduling the meeting, a bounceback tells her the voicemail and email inbox are full. 

"They literally try to push you away," she despaired.

Laura Silver and Carlos Trenzado on their wedding day in 2018. (Supplied)

The family doesn't know when they'll see each other again. They budgeted a few thousand dollars for the applications, but flying back and forth to Trinidad and paying to keep their documents updated has ballooned the costs by $8,000. Silver doesn't have the money to continue flying to Trenzado's immigration appointments. 

"He's really been broken," she said, adding her young adult stepson has his entire life on hold. "If we didn't have such a painful process, maybe they could arrive [in] a mentally healthier state."

Tito, who has special needs, asks for Trenzado every day and says the kids at school bully him for not having a dad.

"I just want to have a whole family," he said sadly. "He's a really great dad … he says I'm his hero."

Silver says while she doesn't blame consular staff for the delays, she has lost faith in the promises from Parliament Hill to reunite families like hers. 

"I think it's a very cold, unfriendly, unhelpful process."

Young Tito knows what he'd say if he got a chance to meet the prime minister.

 "Government, if you're hearing this, then please do something about this and fast." 

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