Manitoba

'It's for my daughter': Venezuelan family in Winnipeg who faced deportation will be able to stay

A Venezuelan family that was almost deported in February now says they're in the process of becoming permanent residents.

Luiz Bonito and his family have been trying to get documentation to stay in Canada since 2015

Luiz Bonito says he, his wife and his daughter are all in the process of becoming permanent residents. The family has been in Winnipeg since 2015 after fleeing Venezuela. (Travis Golby/CBC)

A Venezuelan family living in Winnipeg who were on the verge of being deported earlier this year now say they'll be allowed to stay in Canada.

Luiz Antonio Rodrigues Bonito said he, his wife, Sandra Suarez de Rodrigues, and his 12-year-old daughter, Ana Sofia Rodrigues Suarez, are all now in the process of becoming permanent residents. 

"You know, it's not me. It's for my daughter," said Bonito.

"She's so happy here. She loves the school. She love … the way life is here. She loves her friends. And I know she is very, very happy."

It's a relief for the family, who were facing a deportation order in February after a series of rejected applications to stay in Canada.

They had their bags packed and plane tickets booked for a flight to Portugal, before finding out they had been granted a two-year delay in that order, while they awaited the results of a humanitarian and compassionate case application they had filed.

Going back to Venezuela — a country they fled after a traumatic 2014 home invasion — wasn't an option due to the ongoing civil unrest and safety concerns in the country.

The Canadian Human Rights International Organization (CHRIO), which advocates on behalf of thousands of refugees worldwide, handled their humanitarian plea.

Bonito said on Tuesday, he and his wife received an email from CHRIO with an attachment from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada stating that they're now eligible for pre-arrival services — meaning they could start the process of becoming permanent residents.

Mario Guilombo, the founder and chair president of CHRIO, has been handling the case.

He told CBC News that Bonito had prepared all the necessary documents, and that the family is already in the process of becoming permanent residents.

Winnipeg Liberal MP Doug Eyolfson, who had let the family know in February that the deportation order had been lifted, offered his congratulations.

"Due to Canada's privacy laws, I cannot comment on any specific case. However, I offer my heartiest congratulations to the family, and wish them best of luck," Eyolfson wrote in a statement to CBC News.

Long road to permanent residency

The family left Venezuela after a group of masked men broke into their gated yard in 2014. The armed invaders tied the family up and robbed them.

Bonito's sister, Cristina Rodrigues Bonito, was the first to leave when she acquired permanent residency. She came to Manitoba because of a connection to an older brother.

In 2015, Luiz came to Winnipeg on a tourist visa, as did his wife and daughter, after his application to Canada's skilled labourer program was dismissed. While here, he learned his application through the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program was dismissed.

Sandra, Ana and Luiz celebrate Mother's Day at Oasis Church, where both adults worked as custodians. (Submitted by Bonito family)

Bonito's application to stay in Manitoba on humanitarian and compassionate grounds was rejected in 2017, so his wife filed for refugee status on behalf of the family that year.

The refugee claim was denied and an attempt to appeal at the federal court level was dismissed in fall of 2018.

The family was notified in December they would have to leave early in the new year. They packed their bags and bought tickets to Portgual. But days before they were set to leave in February, the family was told the deportation order had been temporarily lifted.

'Now, we are good'

With the latest news, Bonito says he's looking forward to making more permanent plans in Winnipeg. He says he'd like to buy a house and get more painting jobs, like the ones he's been working since he received a work permit in 2017.

He says his daughter has been positive throughout the entire experience, even when they were preparing to leave for Portugal — a place they'd never been before and where they have no close familiy ties. Bonito's late father was born there, and helped him obtain a passport for that country before he died a few years ago.

Bonito said his daughter has remained positive throughout.

"One day … she tell me, 'You know what, Dad … don't worry, we'll be very nice —very good here, Portugal, or whatever. We are together," he said.

"Now she is happy. Thank you for everyone help us. She deserves everything. You know, she never complained about nothing, and we've gone through a lot. So now, we are good."

A Venezuelan family living in Winnipeg who were on the verge of being deported earlier this year now say they'll be allowed to stay in Canada. 1:54

With files from Bryce Hoye