A Moosomin family is hoping a last minute intervention by Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale will save them from being deported to Honduras, where they feel their lives would be in danger.
Victor Santos Chinchilla, his wife Lesi Cardoza Hernandez and their son Victor fled to Canada fearing for their lives and claimed refugee status in 2011. Since then, another son has been born, Edward, who is a Canadian citizen, and is in kindergarten at Mac-Leod Elementary School.
Victor had witnessed a murder in Honduras, and believed his life was in danger.
They initially lived in Toronto, and have lived in Moosomin for the last two and a half years, where Victor works at Denray Tire and Lesi works at Borderland Co-op.
Their refugee application has been denied, the government is holding their passports, and they have been ordered to leave the country.
The government plans to deport the family to Honduras in July, once the children are done school. The youngest son, Edward, is not subject to the removal order because he is a Canadian citizen, but he would accompany his family.
There are no legal appeals left for the family on their refugee claim, but they have submitted a separate application to be granted Canadian residency based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
They are hoping Goodale will stay their deportation so they can remain in Canada until their new application is reviewed.
The family was facing a deportation a year ago, but the deportation was not carried out as there was an appeal under way. At that time, there was a petition drive and many in the community rallied around the family.
There was limited media coverage because of the family’s fears that their whereabouts would become known to people in Honduras who they feel still want to do them harm.
Local churches and an ad hoc committee have been working to help them.
The new application for residency on Humanitarian and Compassionate grounds is in part based on fears for Edward’s health. The family fears they would not be able to access proper health care for their young son if they are forced to go to Honduras.
“We don’t have a medical system in Honduras like we have here,” says Victor. “Here we have work, we have insurance, we have a good medical system. If we go back to Honduras we don’t have work, we don’t have insurance, we have nothing.
“The kids have lived here, they have studied here, they speak English, they feel comfortable. If we go back, it’ll be starting all over. We’re fighting for them. We want to give them a good future. I would be worried for my children if we go back, and I worry for myself, too, because I will be in danger there. There will be no peace, no nothing. They will follow me.”
Victor says he was happy in Honduras until he witnessed a murder, and people involved started following and threatening him. “I always wanted to stay in Honduras, but when they started following me, calling me, threatening me, I knew I had to leave. I went to the United States and worked for a couple of years, then I brought my family. We went to a lawyer to see about applying for some status in the United States, but the lawyer advised us that if they didn’t approve they would deport us, so we were advised to come to Canada. We were told it would be better for us here.”
Victor believes it is simply legal mistakes that led to his application being denied.
“Without English, and not having anyone to help us, we tried to explain our situation, but it was hard,” he said.
“They say they need more proof. We have affidavits, police statements, but they don’t believe all of it.”
One lawyer accidentally photocopied legal size documents onto letter size, so that police affidavits from Honduras were submitted without signatures at the bottom.
He said it has been stressful going through the court process in the hope of being allowed to stay in Canada.
Lesi says her sons are very worried about the situation. “They are very sad, they don’t want to talk about it,” she says.
The family have been in Canada for more than six years and in Moosomin for two and a half years. They say that Moosomin, not Honduras, feels like home to them.
“I like it here. I love Moosomin. It is a beautiful place to live, and the children can go outside and play—there are no problems here. It’s a very safe place. I want to keep living here. We have made a lot of friends.”
Family happy with support
“We received so much support from the people. People from Honduras who are living here provided some help, the people from the church helped,” says Victor.
“I feel good knowing there are people who want to help us. I really appreciate everyone who has helped.”
Lesi says she has been overwhelmed with the support from the community.
“People are always asking about our situation, they say they are praying for us,” she says.
“We feel very happy with that, Everyone has been so good. Everyone wants to know, everyone wants to help. We really appreciate what everyone has done for us.”
Advocate has become friend
Moosomin resident Russell Slugoski started advocating for the family and has become close friends with them.
He is fearful of what would happen if the family was forced to go to Honduras.
“Their children have entered the schooling system here. They know nothing about Honduras. Victor Junior I’m sure would have a cultural shock if he was to return to Honduras. He would have to adjust,” he says.
Slugoski said his earlier experience with helping refugees from Vietnam helped him understand what refugee families go through.
“I could understand and appreciate the difficulties of families that go through situations that we will never see in Canada. It introduced me to understanding other people’s plights.
“When Victor and Lesi’s situation was presented to me, I had seen them but I had no idea what life situation they were in.
“When I found out, the situation with the Vietnamese family came back to me. I thought I have to do whatever I can to help however I could.
“As things unfolded and I began to understand what took place for them, I just couldn’t back away. They became my friends.
“We’re more than just advocates for this family, they’re our friends.”
He said he doesn’t know what to think of the immigration system.
“There’s really conflicting situations in Canada’s immigration system,” he said. “We are allowing refugees to come to Canada we know little if anything about. Yet with Victor’s situation in Honduras, he’s tried to explain to immigration his reasons for fearing to live in his home country. It seems to me as I read over all the transcripts and documents it wasn’t based on a misunderstanding so much as just a technical thing. The lawyers with legal aid kind of dropped the ball with him initially and that’s what messed it up. Had that worked out better to begin with, I don’t think Victor and Lesi would be going through this today. But immigration felt they couldn’t provide the compelling evidence of Victor’s situation back in Honduras.
“When you run away from a country with virtually nothing other than your clothing and a suitcase, you don’t have the time to put together all the documentation in the way Immigration Canada would expect. They say we will deport you to Honduras and to reapply. That’s a difficult process. That may not even happen if Victor survives his time there.
“They’re sincere, I believe them, I have no doubts about their situation there, and I just feel compelled to help them out.”
He said the family’s employers have been very understanding and supportive during the legal proceedings that have taken up much of the family’s time.
“Both Dan at Denray Tire and Borderland Co-op have demonstrated so well their understanding of their situation. They’ve allowed them so much time off for dealing with things, whether here in Moosomin, or Regina.
“They always seem to accommodate them. They’re outstanding employers. They should be commended for their understanding, and allowing Victor and Lesi to deal with their personal lives.”
“Not what Canada’s about”
Sinclair Harrison is part of the committee trying to help the family. He was asked in part because of his experience dealing with governments as president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities.
“To me, we’re letting thousands of people in, we have no record of them, and we don’t know what kind of people they are,” he says.
“This family has been in Canada for seven years. They’ve got a track record, they’re employed, they’re not costing the country anything. For common sense reasons, it seems ridiculous they’re asking them to leave. To me it’s not what Canada’s about, it’s not what Saskatchewan’s about, it’s not what Ralph Goodale should be about.
“I’ve known Ralph for 30 years. I’m sure he wants to do the right thing.”
Goodale has power to help
Scott Bardsley, spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, says that, as the minister responsible for the Canada Border Services Agency, the minister does have the power to stay the removal order against the family.
“Minister Goodale has an exceptional discretionary power to stay the removal of a particular individual for a length of time he designates,” said Bardsley.
“However, that doesn’t confer any status on somebody—that simply postpones their removal.
“The Minister of Immigration (Ahmed Hussen) has the power to assist with providing somebody with status in Canada.”
Bardsley says Goodale rarely uses his power to stay removal orders. “Canada has a very robust, rules-based system to determine the admissibility of anyone, and there are a number of avenues of appeal and review for any case,” he said. “Once all avenues of appeal are exhausted, somebody is obliged to be removed. Within that system, Minister Goodale and Minister Hussen do get cases brought to their attention—generally by Members of Parliament—for their consideration.
“If there is some kind of exceptional humanitarian or compassionate grounds that perhaps didn’t get properly considered by that system, they would perhaps take a look at that case, and it’s possible Minister Goodale might stay a case to give minister Hussen a bit more time to consider it.
“Whether it is a case that genuinely fell through the cracks of the kind of values that Canadians expect. But these are exceptional measures that are used in a limited way. There are tens of thousands of removals of refugee claimants alone from Canada every year and ministerial interventions would be limited to a handful of cases.
“Generally members of parliament provide assistance to people in their constituencies who come to them looking for help. On occasion an MP would bring a case to the attention of a minister.”
Kitchen raises issue
Dr. Robert Kitchen, Member of Parliament for Souris-Moose Mountain, said Friday that he had taken information on the family’s case to the minister of immigration at the time, John McCallum.
He said that, after he was contacted about the case by the World-Spectator last week, he decided to speak to Goodale.
“Back when I met them in the summertime we did go to the minister at the time, and we followed up at that time,” he said.
“Having seen your email and information, that brought it to our attention again. I decided to forward the information to the ministers who have the power to act in this case.
“Today (Friday, June 9) I talked to the minister, Mr. Goodale, and to the Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Immigration, Serge Cormier.
“I walked across the floor in the House of Commons to talk to Mr. Goodale. I told him the community is supporting this family, I told him we’re dealing with a family that is fearful for their lives, I told him they have a young son who is a Canadian citizen. It was brought to his attention today and he has indicated that he will look at it.
“I had provided a letter of support for the family.
“I reiterated to him and the parliamentary secretary that this is an urgent situation.”
Fight for children’s future
Victor says he sees his fight against deportation as a fight for his children’s future.
“People are willing to help us, and that makes me feel strong,” he said. “I will fight and I won’t give up. It’s important for us to be able to stay. It’s life and death. My older son, he’s old enough to understand. He doesn’t want to go back, when he hears that we may have to go back, he cries, he will go to his room, he doesn’t want to come out. But I say just wait, we have people behind us and everything is going to be okay.”