'We stay together': Guatemalan family in Edmonton granted deportation reprieve
Deportation order delayed two years to allow time for immigration paperwork to be processed
Ten days before a deportation order would have split apart a Guatemalan family of seven living in Edmonton, the phone rang.
Nely Picon Duarte picked it up, then started crying.
Her family's deportation has been delayed two years so their immigration paperwork can be processed, she learned Friday.
"I can still be a teenager and actually proceed with my dreams," said the 18-year-old, who has been accepted into the nursing program at NorQuest College.
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Nely was scheduled to be deported to the United States with her three younger siblings on July 10.
The four children were born in Alabama, so their parents wanted them to live with a U.S. relative rather than take them back to Guatemala.
The parents and their oldest son were set to fly to Guatemala on July 12.
As the oldest sister, Nely said she was prepared to step into her mother's role. But she couldn't yet bring herself to decline the offer from NorQuest.
"I was still hanging on to a little hope and so I was waiting to the last moment to call the college to say I wasn't going to be able to go," Nely said. "But now, it seems that I don't have to.
She wants to finish college and start helping those who are sick in the community.
"It's been my dream, always," she said.
She starts classes in January.
'Thank you, everybody'
After being denied as refugees, the family had applied to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
They filed an application in February, but received deportation orders in June. The average processing time for such paperwork is 30 months.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale can delay a deportation while Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen reviews a case.
The federal ministry of immigration, refugees and citizenship now has an additional 24 months to review the application.
Nely wasn't the only one hanging on to hope in the face of deportation.
Her mother, Yolanda Duarte Martinez, said she had planned to wait the weekend before she started packing.
"I was scared and thought we'd be separated, but Canada has really done us big this time and we can stay together," she said in Spanish.
"Thank you to the minister for giving us the opportunity for this."
Before receiving the phone call Friday, Yolanda had told her youngest daughter, Beverly Picon Duarte, 6, to get ready to pack her toys into garbage bags so she could donate them.
"I thought we were going to actually [be deported]," Beverly said through tears.
"But instead, there's just all the people who helped us and prayed for us and we like you so much. I'm happy because Canada loves us and helps us a lot."
Friends and supporters rallied around the family after news of their deportation broke. Within days, they organized a fundraiser, a letter-writing campaign and two petitions.
On Thursday, half a dozen Edmonton musicians also held a benefit concert to raise money and awareness for the family.
Michael Picon Duarte, 12, said he started crying during the performances.
He hasn't had a chance to tell his middle-school friends that his family will be staying in Edmonton for the time being.
He says he's thankful, because he didn't want to be apart from his family.
His father, Jilmar Picon Pineda, said his family is overwhelmed by the support.
"We're crying right now, but a different crying. Happy crying. Thank you, everybody," he said.
"Thank you so much because right now, it's something big that happened in my family. We stay together."