Family finds sanctuary in Walnut Grove church

A Langley church is again providing sanctuary to prevent the federal government from deporting people.

Marianna Juhasz and her sons Patrik and Tamas came to Canada about four years ago she said to escape domestic violence. They lived in Abbotsford.

They were ordered deported in 2012 and recently lost their appeal in the courts. They were due to leave mid-November.

They are now at the Walnut Grove Lutheran Church.

Jose Figueroa has been fighting deportation for years and in October 2013, took up sanctuary in the church.

A parent of a schoolmate of Patrik started a petition at change.org.

Others had crowdfunding inititives to help the family as it appealed the immigration decision.

But in the end a judge decided that she did not face significant threat returning to Hungary and that there is help available in Hungary or elsewhere in the European Union.

Sanctuary isn’t a legal entity in Canada but officials are reluctant to challenge the centuries old cultural tradition of people seeking a safe haven in churches or temples.

Even winning in court hasn’t proven straight forward in deportation cases.

Figueroa came to Canada as a refugee from El Salvador in 1997 with his wife. His children, born here, are Canadian citizens. Yet since the early 2000s, Figueroa has been fighting to stay.

The issue is his membership in the 1980s of the FMLN, the Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional. In that decade, the FMLN was fighting against the former military regime of El Salvador. Figueroa helped recruit but was not involved in the armed conflict.

Since the conclusion of the civil war, the FMLN has become a legitimate political party, and presently rules El Salvador after the country’s last election.

However, Canadian immigration officials and the Canada Border Services Agencey (CBSA) have claimed that Figueroa cannot stay in the country because they consider him a former member of a terrorist organization.

Figueroa has been trying to convince the government to allow him to stay on compassionate grounds, and simultaneously to force them to admit that he was never a terrorist.

His most recent legal battle concluded on Sept. 2, but still has not resolved the situation for the former refugee claimant.

On Sept. 2, Justice Luc Martineau refused to grant a writ that would force the federal Minister of Public Safety to issue a certificate stating that

Figueroa is not a “listed entity” under the criminal code.

Listed entities include terrorist groups like Al Qaida, Boko Haram, and the Taliban.

The FMLN is not on the list.

Martineau refused to grant the writ, but reaffirmed that this was because neither the FMLN nor Figueroa have ever been “listed entities.”

It was the second time this year that a judge has affirmed that Figueroa was not a member of a terrorist organization.

In May, judge Richard Mosley ruled that an immigration official’s classification of Figueroa as a security risk was wrong.

Mosely said that decision “failed to take into account the nature of the conflict and Mr. Figueroa’s personal role as a non-combatant political advocate.”

Mosely ordered that a different immigration officer review the application, and compared the FMLN to the African National Congress during its fight against apartheid-era South Africa.

“The Canadian government still recognizes the FMLN as a democratically elected government,” said Figueroa.

He said that while other Salvadorans in Canada have run into similar issues, there are thousands more who were FMLN members but became permanent residents or citizens.

Despite the court rulings, the deportation order remains in force.

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