A Langley church is the new temporary home for Jose Figueroa, as he tries to avoid being deported to El Salvador after 15 years in Canada.
Figueroa is claiming sanctuary at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, which he and his wife and children have attended since they first arrived in Canada.
He first came to Canada after the civil war in El Salvador, but his membership in the FLMN is what is keeping his refugee claim from being recognized.
"I am not a terrorist," Figueroa told the Langley Advance. "I never considered the FLMN a terrorist organization."
The FMLN was born as a coalition of leftwing groups opposed to the military junta that controlled El Salvador until 1992. After the end of the Salvadoran Civil War, the FMLN disarmed and became one of the two main political parties in the country.
Figueroa has been fighting his expulsion from Canada since 2010, appealing rulings and writing to the Minister for Public Safety asking for an exemption.
However, last week he heard that a removal order had been issued. He was asked to come to visit with CBSA officials to fill out paperwork and leave Canada.
Figueroa said he can't leave behind the rest of his family, including his children, who have Canadian citizenship.
"At least being in sanctuary, I am able to see them," he said.
His youngest daughter, six year old Ruby, spent the weekend at the church with her father.
Figueroa has the support of the congregation and his pastor, Karl Keller.
If he had been a young man in El Salvador in the late 1980s, he, too, would have joined the FLMN, Keller said. They were fighting against a government that employed death squads and assassinated priests who spoke out against the regime.
Figueroa himself never took up arms in the struggle, Keller said.
He also believes that Figueroa has led an exemplary life in Canada and deserves to stay with his wife and children.
"I believe very strongly that the family needs to stay together," said Keller.
While he can still hug his children and see them in person from the church, it's not the same as living at home, Figueroa said.
His wife has recently had surgery, and she's now bearing the full load of caring for the kids, getting them off to school. Figueroa's oldest son Jose Ivan has autism and needs a lot of support with homework, he said.
Figueroa said he can't understand why the Canadian immigration authorities are planning to remove him from Canada for supporting a legitimate political party.
He pointed out that local Salvadoran citizens will be voting next year, and that many of them will cast absentee ballots for parties including the FLMN, from Canada.
The FLMN is not on the government's list of designated terrorist organizations, a list that does include groups like the International Sikh Youth Federation, the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo cult, Hezbollah, and a variety of Al Qaida-linked groups.
"That is part of the contradictions," Figueroa said of the government case.
He said he has also never hidden his association with the FLMN.
As for how long he will stay in the church, Figueroa said he could be sent home with a stroke of a pen by the federal minister for public safety.
However, if he does not receive special approval, he does not know how long he will remain there.
Legally, sanctuary is not a recognized way to avoid arrest in Canada, and both ordinary criminals and those facing expulsion can be arrested on church property.
However, in practice the government has been reluctant to arrest people claiming sanctuary in houses of worship. A former KGB officer has been in a Vancouver church for four years avoiding removal from Canada.
@ Copyright 2013