Man stuck in a Langley church despite anti-terrorist court rulings

LANGLEY — Nearly a year after he claimed sanctuary in a Walnut Grove Church, Langley’s Jose Figueroa is tired but remains hopeful that he will be allowed to stay in Canada.

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 FMLN (the Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional) in the 1980s.

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 Agency (CBSA) have claimed that Figueroa cannot stay in the country because they consider him a former member of a terrorist organization.

On Oct. 4 last year, faced with a deportation order, he moved into the Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, and he hasn’t been outside since.

"If I step outside of the church, they will make an arrest," he said.

He spends his time working on his case, reading up on immigration law on the church’s computer, and spends the weekends with his visiting wife and children.

He takes part in church services and activities inside the building, such as weekly zumba classes.

"It is very frustrating, I tell you," Figueroa said.

"I haven’t even gone in the backyard," he added.

However, it’s better than being in a detention centre, waiting to be sent back to Central America.

"I wanted to avoid the separation of the family," he said.

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 last month, 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 likeal-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 noncombatant 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.

Legally, CBSA officials could come into the church, but in this and several other cases across the country, they have held off from violating the old tradition of sanctuary.

Now Figueroa is looking at fundraising for more legal challenges. He has already seen $4,000 in bills on his recent court challenge.

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