Manitoba

Last-ditch effort to avoid deportation fails for Manitoba family

Despite an 11th-hour plea to the immigration minister, a last-ditch constitutional question to the federal court and late-night discussions about seeking sanctuary, a Mexican family living in rural Manitoba was deported early Tuesday morning.

Father, mother and 3 children sent to Mexico, where they no longer have ties

Miguel Aranza, his wife Maria Espinoza and their children, Esperanza, Miguel Jr. and Francisco (left to right) in their Altona apartment Monday night, as they packed and prepared to be deported to Mexico City. (Ted Enns-Dyck/Seeds Church)

Despite an 11th-hour plea to the immigration minister, a last-ditch constitutional question to the federal court and late-night discussions about seeking sanctuary, a Mexican family living in rural Manitoba was deported early Tuesday morning.

Miguel Aranza, his wife, Maria Espinoza, and their three children — all under age 10 — were told to be at the airport in Winnipeg at 5:30 a.m. to board a flight to Mexico City.

"We wish we could stay but we keep moving forward for our kids," Espinoza said emotionally Monday evening as the family packed their belongings and said goodbye to their friends.

"We were so happy in Altona, we found a really great community in a great environment for our kids. My kids were involved in a lot of school activities, we made a lot of friends in the neighborhood and church and workplace. We found a perfect job.

"Now that we're facing the end, what is the next step? It's sad."

'Experienced hatred and racism'

Aranza entered the U.S. as an undocumented minor more than 30 years ago. He filed for asylum based on fears of the violence between drug cartels, but was refused.

Espinoza went to the U.S. in 2001 as a 15-year-old. Her asylum claim was based on being a victim of domestic violence and sexual abuse in Mexico. It was also rejected.

The couple met while living in Minneapolis. They had three children, one of whom has heart problems and needs medical attention. The children, aged five to nine, are American citizens.

The family, seen in a photo with Santa from a work Christmas party, will spend this Christmas in Mexico, a place Miguel Aranza hasn't been for more than 30 years, and Maria Espinoza fled as a teenager in 2001. (Submitted by Miguel Aranza)

The family was involved in a local church, humanitarian organizations, and community projects including soccer programs for children and teens.

However, they started hearing stories about friends and other Mexican citizens being deported. They lived in fear after a U.S. Immigration Officer banged on their door at 2 a.m. in a case of mistaken identity.

"When (Donald) Trump was elected, we did not feel safe and we experienced hatred and racism in Minnesota. In addition, my son has medical issues and I was worried his health would be at risk if we went to Mexico," Aranza wrote in a document filed to the federal court.

In July 2017, the family walked across the border into Manitoba and filed a refugee claim on the basis that they don't have any connection to Mexico and didn't believe they would be safe there.

However, they withdrew that this past summer after getting legal advice from another lawyer that their claim was weak. Instead, they filed an application for permanent resident status based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Winnipeg lawyer Alastair Clarke filed several last-ditch efforts with the federal court to postpone the deportation order. He was unsuccessful. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC News)

They've spent months gathering documents and statements of support from their employer, neighbours, school officials and church leaders in Altona, Man.

"I ask for an opportunity to stay and live in Canada, as I see hope, opportunity and peace in the community we are living in right now," Aranza wrote in his submission to the court.

"Staying here will allow my son Miguel to receive help for his heart condition and be able to live longer. Life in Canada will also allow my children to receive education and a safe childhood."

However, CBSA ordered them deported Tuesday at 5:30 a.m. CST.

Monday, on their last full day in Canada, there was a flurry of last-ditch efforts to postpone the deportation.

Their Winnipeg-based lawyer filed a motion asking the federal court to delay it until their application on humanitarian and compassionate grounds can be heard. If not, Alastair Clarke asked if their removal could be put on hold until June 30, 2019, so two of the children could finish school.

The court declined to hear the motion because it was made within 24 hours of the deportation.

Clarke then submitted an 11th-hour request to the federal court on a constitutional question over the "arbitrary" 24-hour rule.

It was also refused.

Miguel Aranza and Maria Espinoza gave their pastor, Ted Enns-Dyck, a pinata to break open at church for Christmas. (Ted Enns-Dyck/Seeds Church)

"As far as I can tell, legal options are completely exhausted," Clarke said Monday evening.

"We do have a humanitarian application for permanent residence status. In my legal opinion, it's a strong application. That application will stay in process even after they're removed.

"However, because that application is based on establishing that connection to Canada, the hardship in returning et cetera, many of those arguments will essentially be rendered null and void after after the deportation."

The children made friends and found a place to belong in Altona's schools and Seeds of Life Community Church. (Ted Enns-Dyck)

Meanwhile, the Conservative MP for the area, Candice Bergen, asked federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen to look into the case and "to give this case every consideration." 

Throughout the evening, the family and their supporters waited to hear if Hussen would intervene. He did not.

"Our government is committed to ensuring that every case is assessed based on its merits, in a fair manner and in accordance with Canada's laws. We treat these matters very seriously and a decision to remove someone from Canada is not taken lightly," Hussen's press secretary, Mathieu Genest, said in a statement to CBC News.

"We are committed to ensuring that people being removed from Canada are not sent to a country where they would be in danger or at risk of persecution."

There was one more option — the family could refuse to get on the plane and instead seek sanctuary in a local church. While there's no reason immigration officers can't raid a church or place of worship, there is a long-standing tradition of respecting safe houses.

In 2007, a family lived in a Winnipeg church for 18 months while fighting a deportation order to Pakistan.

A Salvadoran man lived in a B.C. church for two years to avoid deportation based on his political activities.

Miguel Jr and Esperanza with their cat, Shakira. They won't be able to take her with them to Mexico. (Submitted by Miguel Aranza)

A few blocks away from the family's apartment, leaders of the Seeds of Life Community Church were meeting to pray and decide if they would offer the family sanctuary. After hours of reflection they chose not to.

"We just didn't feel like this was going to be the best thing for them to fight the process that they've been in. It didn't feel like it was going to make sense to put them through that," said one of the pastors, Ted Enns-Dyck.

"We understand these decisions are difficult to make. Our systems are fallible; they're not as responsive as they could be."

'Thoughts and prayers'

Some of the family's legal bills were paid by their employer, Friesen Corporation, Canada's largest printer of hardcover books.

Aranza was a coordinator/sheeter assistant while Espinoza worked on the packing division production support team.

In a letter of support, human resources manager Tina Barkman said recruitment continues to be one of the greatest challenges for the employee-owned company.

"Losing Miguel and Maria would be a blow to the departments in which they work. Replacing them now, on top of our other recruitment need, would put additional strain on their teams and on Friesens as a whole," she wrote.

Our community is losing people with heart and courage and the willingness to do what they need to, for their family. That's going to be our loss in this country.- Ted Enns-Dyck

CEO Chad Friesen agreed and expressed his disappointment in the deportation order.

"Since joining our company earlier this year they have proven to be a great  addition to our team," he wrote in a statement to CBC News.

"While it is difficult to lose them from our company, we are most concerned for their safety and well-being as they are sent back to the situation they fled so many years ago. Our thoughts and prayers will be with them."

Community members have arranged for someone to meet the family at the airport in Mexico City. They are also helping the couple look for job opportunities.

"There's not too many courageous people as they are. Our community is losing people with heart and courage and the willingness to do what they need to, for their family. That's going to be our loss in this country," Enns-Dyck said.

The family didn't expect to get much sleep on their last night in Canada — they had to be on the road to Winnipeg by 2:30 a.m.

"We don't know what challenge we'll be facing, but we'll be ready for it. We're hoping for the best," Espinoza said.

About the Author

Karen Pauls

National Reporter

Karen Pauls is an award-winning journalist who has been a national news reporter in Manitoba since 2004. She has travelled across Canada and around the world to do stories for CBC, including the 2011 Royal Wedding in London. Karen has worked in Washington and was the correspondent in Berlin, Germany, for three months in 2013, covering the selection of Pope Francis in Rome. Twitter @karenpaulscbc

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