On his last full day of living in sanctuary, a sleep-deprived José Figueroa posed for a family Christmas postcard portrait with his wife and children in front of the Christmas trees inside the entrance to Walnut Grove Lutheran Church.
It was Tuesday morning, the day after the new federal government called off the campaign to have Figueroa deported to El Salvador.
The battle began in 2010 because authorities objected to Figueroa’s connection to a group that fought against an oppressive dictatorship in that country.
The fact that group went on to become the democratically-elected government of El Salvador didn’t seem to matter to the authorities, only that some in the group, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), used violence.
Figueroa was not one of them, but his connection enough to make him a terrorist under a law that effectively allowed guilt by association.
It was enough to forcibly separate the Langley man from his family after more than a decade living legally in Canada.
After years of arguing his case failed to convince the authorities, Figueroa finally was forced to take shelter inside his church.
For more than two years, his home was the church boardroom, which became a makeshift bedroom and office. It all ended Monday with a single phone call from a CBSA officer.
John McCallum, the new federal minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship had overturned the May 5, 2010 decision that declared Figueroa inadmissible to Canada.
There were screams of joy and tears, and no one got much sleep that night. Next morning, as mom Ivania prepared breakfast in the church kitchen, dad José was trying to coax a smile from a very groggy daughter Esmerelda while Ruby was attempting to convince him that allowing her just one Christmas present early would be a great idea (he refused), and son José Ivan was wondering out loud if dad would have to re-take his driving test after two years off the road.
It was all, wonderfully, ordinary.