Nightmare ends for mother, son facing deportation after 19 years in Canada
Mother of 3 with Canadian husband, children wins fight to stay along with son
After 19 years in Canada, Nike Okafor was nearly ripped from her Canadian husband and family after a surprise deportation order threatened to upend her life entirely.
Now her nightmare is over.
Six months after CBC Toronto first reported on the story of the personal support worker facing a sudden and forced return to Nigeria — the country she fled nearly two decades ago — Okafor says she can finally breathe after being granted permanent resident status this week.
"I thank God for where I am today," she said. "This is where I've been longing to be."
Her Nigerian-born son, Sydney, 21, who also faced deportation, can now envision a life not teetering on the edge of collapse.
"I'm just so happy my mother and I can stay in Canada with no worries after waiting so long," he told CBC Toronto. "It's been a long struggle."
With his permanent resident status, Sydney says he can qualify for student loans, afford to continue schooling and finally do simple things like travel with his friends without fear it might impact his status.
Okafor, 39, has had to fight for her survival before. She arrived in Canada as an asylum seeker alone in 2003 with her son in tow and pregnant with another child.
Being Muslim, she'd had a son with a Christian man and feared if she stayed, he would be taken from her — or worse.
In the years that followed, Okafor put herself through school, found employment as a personal support worker, had two Canadian-born children, met the man she would marry and built a future she never thought possible.
'Don't split us,' Canadian husband pleaded
It was a future that nearly came crashing down. After her refugee claim was denied, Okafor appealed and was told to stay in close touch with the Canadian Border Services Agency.
She did, and in the meantime, life went on.
Then, this past April, Okafor and her son, who were now in Canada without status, received a sudden deportation order from the CBSA. That's despite her husband filing a spousal sponsorship application to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada more than two years ago.
Had the deportation gone ahead, her two Canadian-born children would have had to say goodbye to their mother and her husband would have been separated from his wife of five years.
"My whole life is here," Okafor told CBC Toronto in an emotional interview in July.
"We're a family," her husband, Rotimi Odunaiya said. "Don't split us," he urged the government.
Though spousal sponsorship wait times are now 10 to 12 months, Okafor and her family had been waiting 28 months when they decided to speak out, saying they would have long been permanent residents if not for the delays.
Advocates told CBC Toronto it was confounding that someone could be slapped with a deportation order while such an application was under review.
The CBSA said at the time that having a Canadian-born child does not prevent someone from being deported, but the agency "always considers the best interest of the child before removing someone."
'People get sick in this process, lose hope'
Within hours of CBC Toronto's reporting, the family's lawyer received a letter from the CBSA granting their request to defer the deportation, while he continued their fight to stay.
Then, this past Monday came the news they had been praying for: a letter from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada stating their applications for permanent resident status had been approved.
"My hope was revived," Okafor said, recalling the darkness she felt when she thought she would have to leave the country she calls home.
Vakkas Bilsin, Okafor's lawyer, told CBC Toronto his client only heard from the IRCC about her sponsorship application after her story made the news.
"They had not taken our requests for expedited process seriously by the time you covered Nike's story."
As for Okafor, if there's one thing she would ask the government for now, it's compassion for those whose immigration applications are ongoing.
"People get sick in this process, lose hope," she said. "They should be given a chance to make sure the process is done."
With files from Clara Pasieka