We are José; Stop the Deportation

26 Jan

By Evan Zenobia


OTTAWA—The We are José campaign held a day of action on January 16th in cities throughout Canada. A non-partisan movement, We are José seeks to reverse the deportation order on Salvador-Canadian BC resident José Figueroa. Eclipse News caught up with the Ottawa chapter of We are José during their solidarity forum.


Though he has spent a decade and a half in Canada and has three Canadian-born children, Figueroa is slated for deportation. Like many other Salvadorans, Figueroa came to Canada as a refugee from the violence of the El Salvador Civil War, which saw the state use death squads against its opponents and in which the military dictatorship killed women, children, the elderly, priests, nuns and students without discrimination.


Now, Figueroa, again like many of his fellow Salvadoran Canadians, faces expulsion from Canada. Not because he is dangerous, violent, or because he lied on his immigration application, but because he opposed the fascist rule of El Salvador.


As a student, Figueroa was active in the anti-dictatorship student movement, which was part of a broad coalition of democratic forces that was affiliated with the guerrilla FMLN (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional). Even though the FMLN has disarmed and been elected to power in internationally recognized elections, Figueroa’s loose association with the group has enabled classified him as a security threat according to Canada’s immigration laws, in particular Section 34.1 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA).


To be clear, Figueroa was not a guerrilla. He never took up arms against the regime, never committed terrorism, and did not hold a position of significant leadership within the student opposition movement. “Most people in the FMLN don’t even remember him,” said Laura Avalos, the president of ASCORCAN, (Asociación Salvadoreña Canadiense de Ottawa y Región de la Capital Nacional) Even so, he was honest about his activist past when he applied to immigrate, as opposed to many other refugees who, understandably, did their best to hide their links to opposition groups to avoid being labelled threats.


Because of the vague definition of “terrorism” and “seditious” in Canada’s immigration laws, people who peacefully stand up to fascist tyrants end up in the same category as violent extremists who strap bombs to themselves.


Obviously, this represents a huge problem, and shuts Canada off to refugees who are brave enough to non-violently challenge dictators.


But beneath the outright suffering and peril that the IRPA brings upon ordinary refugees, there lurks a more insidious threat. “I think that the failures of the immigration system has allowed for the politicization of the system, to the advantage of those who want to utilize it,” said Avalos.


It is certainly alarming that immigration policy empowers lawmakers and the government to expel people for their political past. If it is legal to deport someone for past membership in an internationally-recognized governing party, then where can the line be drawn? At what point is somebody not seditious, or a threat to Canada? When will the deportations escalate from people like José to anybody who disagrees with Stephen Harper?


The time has come to demand that arbitrary and ideological enforcement of a poorly-written law end. Too many hard-working, law-abiding people have suffered.


For the sake of democracy, to end the needless harassment and suffering, call upon your deputies to stop the deportation. This is a struggle for all of us. We are all José.


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