Community rallies for Guatemalan family facing deportation
'It really is a last-ditch effort to save the lives of these children,' says organizer of Edmonton fundraiser
The story of a Guatemalan family facing deportation from Edmonton has sparked a last-ditch community effort to keep them in Canada.
The family of seven has two weeks left in the country.
Deportation will separate the parents from their four youngest children, who were born in the United States.
They will be sent to live with a relative in the United States on July 10. The parents and their oldest son will be flown to Guatemala on July 12.
- Deportation threatens to break apart family in Edmonton
- Deportation set for Guatemalan family in Edmonton despite plea for compassion
"We call it an army of people who are looking for ways to support the family," said Ingrid Flores, who started two online petitions to stop the deportation.
As of Wednesday, the combined petitions had more than 4,500 signatures. Electronic petitions need at least 500 signatures within 120 days to be certified in Canada.
Without certification, the petition cannot be presented to the House of Commons.
Both documents are addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
What we're asking the government, in four or five months, is really to produce a miracle.- Ingrid Flores
A volunteer in Ottawa will personally deliver paper copies, Flores said.
"What we're asking the government, in four or five months, is really to produce a miracle when we know that these cases do not take four or five months," she said.
Application not yet reviewed
Four months ago, the family filed an application to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
The average processing time for such an application is 30 months. The family is being deported in mid-July.
They had applied to stay in Canada as refugees in 2011, but that claim was denied.
With help from an acquaintance who spoke English and Spanish, the family then tried to submit an application to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
They claim the woman who helped them disappeared in December, after taking thousands of dollars over the course of two years.
Once they realized none of their papers had been filed, the family hired a lawyer and filed a proper application in February.
In response to questions from CBC News, the federal ministry of immigration, refugees and citizenship confirmed the family's story.
"Their application is at the early stage, and have not yet been reviewed for eligibility," an IRCC spokesperson wrote in an email.
When pressed on why the family is being deported, a different spokesperson responded that the family is "without status in Canada."
The family is under deportation orders by the Canada Border Services Agency while their plea to stay in Canada is reviewed. The application itself does not stay a removal order.
In response to a request for comment from Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, the IRCC wrote "it would not be appropriate."
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale can delay a deportation while the immigration minister considers a claim.
Goodale's spokesperson, Scott Bardsley, said he could not comment specifically on the family's case for privacy reasons.
"The decision to remove someone from Canada is not taken lightly," he wrote in a statement.
"Once individuals have exhausted all legal avenues of appeal/due process, they are expected to respect our laws and leave Canada or be removed."
'Make it awkward for the government'
After reading about the family's case, Edmonton actor and producer Jesse Lipscombe launched a letter-writing campaign.
He's encouraging Canadians to put their support to paper, by penning letters of protest to the federal government.
"Imagine if this were your family, a little letter goes a long way!" he wrote on his Facebook page.
Lipscombe is the creator of #MakeItAwkward, an online movement he said is meant to start conversations about uncomfortable topics.
"We thought the best thing to do is talk about it publicly," Lipscombe said.
"All we're doing is the best that we can to make it awkward for the government before they decide to send them back to Guatemala."
Half a dozen Edmonton musicians are also donating their time for a benefit concert Thursday.
Mohsin Zaman, Male Artist of the Year at the 2016 Edmonton Music Awards, said he's nervous about performing for the family.
"It's a lot more emotion because you see that there is going to be suffering involved," Zaman said. "You're trying, in whatever miniscule way, to make it better."
Zaman immigrated to Canada from the United Arab Emirates in 2008 and said he knows how difficult the process can be.
Money made through the concert will go directly to the family, to help cover the costs of fighting their deportation.
"It really is a last-ditch effort to save the lives of these children," said Tania Gonzalez-Hope, who organized the benefit concert.
Hopefully someone will hear us so that we can do something.- Tania Gonzalez-Hope
"To see the amount of support of the community rallying around this family, it makes us feel so hopeful.
"Hopefully someone will hear us so that we can do something."
The benefit concert is scheduled for 4 p.m. at The Mercury Room.