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Candlelight vigil for Langley father fighting deportation
The painting on the wall inside the Walnut Grove Lutheran church in Langley showed a montage of faces, including 13-year-old José Ivan Figueroa and his younger sisters Esmerelda and Ruby.
José was depicted holding a copy of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms while Esmerelda and Ruby were holding a banner that said "Canadians should not be forced to leave."
The billboard-sized image was on display during a Sunday night candlelight vigil to show support for the father of the three Canadian-born children, José Figueroa, who is fighting a immigration hearing decision to deport him back to his native El Salvador.
About 50 people turned out for the event, among them some of the people involved with the "We are José" campaign on the Internet to urge the federal government to rescind the deportation order, issued because Figueroa is considered a security threat for belonging to an anti-government coalition as a university student on El Salvador.
The Immigration and Refugee Board ruled Figueroa should be refused Canadian citizenship because 20 years ago he was associated with the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN) that opposed the government of the day in El Salvador.
The board considers FMLN to be a terrorist organization, saying the group was responsible for bombing several buildings and a murder of mayor.
Figueroa disputes the allegations, saying the FMLN was a broad coalition of different groups opposed to the authoritarian government of the day and he personally had nothing to do with any violence.
José Figueroa and his daughter Esmerelda review the painting on display at the vigil.
After the regime was overthrown, the FMLN became a regular political party whose candidate won the 2009 election.
Figueroa has been a member of the Walnut Grove congregation since 1997 and pastor Karl Keller represented Figueroa at his immigration hearing.
Keller said he will not rest until the government agrees to allow Figueroa to remain in Canada.
"I thought we had a slam-dunk case" Keller said.
"It would be an atrocity to send them back to El Salvador."
Figueroa said he was optimistic about his chances.
"I hope that little by little, we can gather strength," Figueroa told the attendees.
"Thank you very much for being part of our life and part of our struggle."
Figueroa has lived in Langley for more than 13 years with his wife and children.
“We Are José” was organized by a university professor who supports Figueroa and asks people to post video messages online on YouTube saying “I am José.”
Some of the posted clips can be viewed at http://wearejose.wordpress.com/.
The Jan. 16 vigil was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the day the government of El Salvador signed a peace agreement with the FMLN to end 12 years of bloody civil war that killed an estimated 80,000 people.
Sigfrido Reyes, a member of the FMLN government in El Salvador and the incoming vice president of the legislative assembly was expected to speak at the Langley rally via an Internet link, but a connection could not be established Sunday night.