Regina mother must prove 'bond' with 4-year-old son to stave off deportation
Immigration officer ruled that separation would cause 'emotional hardship' but would not 'sever the bonds'
How does a parent measure on paper the bond they have with a child? Christina Schiller has three weeks to answer that question or face deportation.
Schiller, a 44-year-old mother originally from Hungary, needs Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to reassess whether separating her from her four-year-old son, Jayden, would cause him harm.
"Jayden, as a Canadian, has a right to both a mother and a father," Schiller said. "Hopefully, they'll let us stay."
The boy's Canadian father, who shares custody of the boy, has a court order that prohibits the child from leaving the country.
Schiller applied for permanent residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. An immigration officer denied her application in Nov. 2018.
In a written decision, obtained by CBC News, a senior Immigration officer ruled that separating the mother and child would cause "emotional hardship" but would not "sever the bonds that have been established."
Schiller's deportation has been put on hold until a different IRCC officer reviews her case. She has until the end of April to submit documents for that reassessment.
She is now working to gather evidence about her bond with her son and his best interests. It includes support letters from teachers and Jayden's father, academic studies about the harmful consequences of forcible separation, and psychiatric assessments of her children.
Schiller, a dual citizen of South Africa and Hungary, moved to Canada in 2011 with her two daughters to marry a Regina man. The marriage collapsed within a year. Schiller said she couldn't afford airfare back to Hungary.
After a brief relationship with another man, Ray Wuschenny of Regina, she gave birth to a son in 2014. Schiller is the primary caregiver, but they share joint custody.
Wuschenny said he was concerned about Schiller's immigration status so he got a court order shortly after his son's birth to keep the boy in Canada.
Schiller's visitor permit expired. She said she stayed in Canada illegally because she wasn't willing to leave Canada without her son.
In 2017, Schiller applied for permanent residency based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Federal authorities are legally obligated to consider the best interests of any child affected by the decision.
The immigration officer who reviewed and rejected Schiller's application wrote that there was "insufficient evidence" related to the best interests of the child.
"There is very minimal information provided about the children in Canada," the officer said.
Children are 'resilient'
The report concedes that separating mother and child will be hard on both.
"I am sympathetic to the emotional hardship that they may experience due to their separation and recognize it will be difficult for all to have to separate," it says. "However, I am not satisfied that separation from the family here in Canada would sever the bonds that have been established."
Schiller's youngest daughter, Mia, moved to Canada when she just a toddler. Now eight years old, Mia only speaks a half dozen words in Hungarian. She said she doesn't want to leave Canada.
"I feel bad. I don't want to leave. I don't want to leave my brother," Mia said during an interview at her Regina home.
The immigration officer's report says, "children are more resilient and adaptable to changing situations therefore I find that returning to Hungary with their mother would not significantly impact their lives."
IRCC declined to comment on Schiller's case.
Evguenia Rokhline, an immigration lawyer in Toronto who frequently handles deportation cases involving non-custodial fathers, said it seems as though IRCC has a default position to separate families.
"It's not surprising. It's terrifying," Rokhline said.
"Time and time again, we get those refusals where it feels like it's a copy and paste decision from many, many years ago when they used that kind of wording."
Rokhline says the written decisions repeat the same phrases that children are resilient, that it will be hard but the parents can Skype or make phone calls and that eventually they can visit each other.
Rokhline says that Schiller's application, which was handwritten without the assistance of a lawyer, likely lacked some of the legal reasoning that can sway an immigration officer. Rokhline has recently taken on Schiller's case.