Salvadoran refugee can finally leave Langley church sanctuary

December 22, 2015

By Kelly Sino Ski and Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun |

Jose Figueroa was declared a free man on Monday, two years after he sought sanctuary in a Langley church to avoid deportation to El Salvador.

He has yet to set foot outside, waiting until Wednesday afternoon to share the moment with those who stood behind him as he fought tirelessly to remain in Canada with the rest of his family.

“I don’t want to be alone there in making this big step for freedom,” said Figueroa, who turns 49 Wednesday. “It wouldn’t be fair for me to go outside without all of the community standing beside me and witnessing that. This is an achievement not only for my family but for all those Canadians who supported us.”

It’s been a long battle for Figueroa, who arrived in Canada with his wife in 1997. After an unsuccessful refugee claim, the couple received provisional approval from the federal immigration ministry to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds in 2004.

Figueroa, however, was later deemed inadmissible on security grounds due to his involvement with the group Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberacion Nacional (FMLN), which opposed El Salvador’s former military regime. The group now forms the democratically elected government of El Salvador and is recognized by Canada as such. Figueroa said he was involved with the group as a student activist and did not take part in violent activities.

Figueroa’s wife was permitted to stay, while the couple’s three children were all born in Canada. He again applied to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, but this application was rejected in 2013 and a removal order issued against him. He asked the Federal Court to review this decision.

It was then that Walnut Grove Lutheran Church became Figueroa’s new home. During the past two years, he has spent his days at the church reading up on the law and filing court challenges, surrounded by stacks of legal documents piled perilously high on a desk in a church meeting room, which doubles as a Sunday school. A short hallway connects the meeting room with Figueroa’s bedroom, a tiny space that barely fits a bunk bed, some shelves and his printer.

“It’s a jungle in there,” Figueroa said. “It’s smaller than what Nelson Mandela had.”

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