James Robert Inglis
At times chanting “We are José”, a crowd estimated at 150 people gathered on Saturday for a rally to support Jose Figueroa, a 16-year resident of Canada claiming sanctuary at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, in an attempt to avoid deportation to El Salvador.
Figueroa, a slight soft-spoken man said, “the community is caring for family values. One of the reasons that I took sanctuary was because it was the threat of me being separated from my family.”
Figueroa faces separation from his wife and their three Canadian-born children because the Canadian government believes his past membership in the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) makes him a security threat to Canada.
Langley City Councillors Rosemary Wallace and David Hall, Pastors Karl Keller and Vic Cornish, UBC political science professor Maxwell Cameron and Wilson Munoz of the Vancouver civic party Coalition of Progressive Voters (COPE) were among the speakers who addressed the rally in support of Jose Figueroa.
Figueroa himself addressed the crowd from the relative safety of the church doorway. His voice breaking with emotion, he began by stating he was “being repressed [by the Canadian government],” thanked everyone for their support and made a plea that people “raise their voices” to “speak for us [his family].”
Despite the government he fled from in El Salvador no longer holding power, he fears for his safety if forced to return.
“You would think that El Salvador would be a safe place for me to be returned, but I don’t think that is the case. It was even worse than before. There are gangs and there are political issues that are going on,” he said.
“The guys that were targeting me in the 90s, the reason I was looking for refugee protection, they would have already forgotten about me, but because of this situation I was forced to make everything public. I cannot hide my face. Anybody in Canada they know this is José, [who] was a member of the FMLN. The same is happening in El Salvador, so this is putting the family in greater danger because of the political unrest,” Figueroa said.
He has now spent more than two weeks sheltered inside the Walnut Grove Lutheran Church hoping the Canadian government will listen to the calls of his supporters to overturn his deportation order. He maintains that staff members of Canada Border Services Agency have been watching the church since he took refuge there.