That is one of the things Jose Figueroa misses the most, after spending an entire year inside the Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, unable to step outside to feel sunshine on his face. He can’t go outside for fear he will be arrested by Canadian Border Service Agency officers who would hold him in an immigration detention centre.
For Figueroa, he has missed a Christmas at home with his family, his children’s birthday parties, and regular day-to-day life with his wife and kids.
“I miss my freedom,” he said on Thursday.
Saturday, Oct. 4 will mark exactly one year since the Langley father of three was forced to seek sanctuary inside his church after the CBSA put out a warrant for his arrest.
A potluck is being organized on Oct. 4 at 5:30 p.m. at the church. Figueroa is hoping the community will come out and support his family’s quest to stay together in Canada.
Officers from the CBSA park at the church on a regular basis, making sure Figueroa stays within it, or else they are ready to arrest him.
Despite a federal judge ordering a stay of his deportation order, the CBSA didn’t drop the arrest warrant.
With support from his pastor and the congregation, Figueroa has lived an entire year within the walls of his church.
“Pastor Karl (Keller) has been a great support and so have the members of this church. Many bring me food,” he said.
A very small room has been converted into his bedroom with a bunk bed for his children to sleep there too. The communal kitchen is his place to make meals, and luckily there is a shower so he can stay clean. A local personal trainer had volunteered time to work out with him to help him keep fit.
“I haven’t dared to step out to the back yard, so I’ve never been outside this whole year,” he said. His skin has lightened.
His wife and children visit all the time, and many times the girls stay the night — but Figueroa said they have grown bored of playing at the church.
“Kids need to go places and be with their friends.”
Despite a federal judge ruling that Figueroa’s deportation order be sent back for another review by a different officer, the CBSA still has him under surveillance.
“From my perspective, I can’t understand why they are still out there wanting to arrest me like a criminal. I have done nothing wrong and I’m certainly not a criminal,” he said. “If the CBSA dropped the arrest warrant I could go back home, go back to work to provide for my family. The ministry must answer to why they are still pursuing the arrest warrant when a judge has clearly indicated my status in Canada needs to be reviewed.”
In fact, Federal Court Judge Mosley questioned and couldn’t find reasonable answers from the immigration ministry’s lawyer as to why Figueroa was considered a threat and therefore inadmissible when the FMLN, the political organization he supported in El Salvador is not on any Canadian terrorist list, never has been and is now the current democratically elected government there.
Mosley even suggested to the ministry that if Figueroa was not granted permanent status in Canada, then potentially the same decision should apply to the thousands of El Salvadorians living in Canada.
Just last week, Langley MP Mark Warawa sent yet another letter of support for Figueroa, calling on the government to let him stay in Canada permanently, emphasizing that he is a “model citizen.” He is in full support of Figueroa being able to stay in Canada with his family and calls on his government to have “common sense.” Yet, Figueroa remains trapped — waiting for common sense to prevail.
The church is located at 20530 88 Ave.