An emotional José Figueroa left the Walnut Grove Lutheran Church for the first time in more than two years Wednesday with his wife and three children at his side.

Updated: José Figueroa leaves church after deportation order dropped

Langley man who sought sanctuary in church granted exemption by new immigration minister



After over two years living in sanctuary in the Langley Walnut Grove Lutheran church, José Figueroa was granted an exemption from a deportation order on Monday, a decision that allowed him to go home in time for Christmas.

“I am very happy” Figueroa told The Times.

“This is a good thing. Justice has finally been done.”

He delayed his departure from the church until Wednesday, December 23, his birthday, to allow friends and supporters a chance to attend.

At 2 p.m. on the dot, he took one hesitant step outside with his wife and children at his side and burst into tears.

“I am free,” he said.

Then he stepped all the way out.

More than 100 friends and supporters started singing “Happy Birthday” and chanting “we are José”, a reference to an internet campaign to keep him in Canada.

Figueroa began to smile and laugh.

Then he went back inside for a press conference, saying he entered the church as a free man now.

Figueroa said he had been discussing lifting the deportation order with the CBSA for several days, but the phone call from a CBA officer early Monday afternoon still came as a surprise.

“It was 12:15 p.m.” Figueroa recalled.

“He (the officer) said, ‘congratulations, your (residency) has been approved, so we are not looking to arrest you any more. You don’t have to give us your passport’.”

“It just came out of the blue.”

The phone call was followed by a emailed Dec. 21 letter from Citizenship and Immigration Canada that said John McCallum, the new federal minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship had overturned the May 5, 2010 decision that declared Figueroa inadmissible to Canada.

His permanent resident application has been approved in principle, and as a result, the deportation order and arrest warrant have been cancelled.

The new minister “found that there are sufficient humanitarian and compassionate considerations in your case to warrant an exemption,” said the letter, signed by A. Maekawa, a senior immigration officer in Vancouver.

Figueroa thinks the recent change of federal government likely played a role in the decision.

“It has a lot to do with it,” he said.

“If it was still a Conservative government, there would still be an arrest warrant for me.”

Figueroa entered Canada legally from El Salvador 18 years ago, but he was ordered deported from Canada for belonging to the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a group linked to violent acts against the repressive regime that ruled the country during the civil war from 1980 to 1992.

Even though the FMLN went on to win a nonviolent and democratic election that saw them formally recognized by the government of Canada, under tough new anti-terrorism rules, the connection was enough to force his deportation.

An arrest warrant for Figueroa was issued by the CBSA, leading the father of three Canadian-born children to seek asylum at the Walnut Grove Lutheran Church.

Lifting the deportation order was long overdue, he said.

“It’s something they should have done a long time ago.”

Now, he intends to renew his application to become a legal landed immigrant and plans to study to become a lawyer.

His wife Ivania was thrilled.

“So many emotions (when José told me),” she said.

“I cry, I jump. It was so emotional for all my family, for my kids. We were just so happy, we cry.”

Then they started phoning friends and supporters.

The church has announced a celebration will be held on the day when Figueroa takes his first official step outside at 2 p.m.

“This decision (by the minister) allows me to safely be reunited with my family,” Figueroa said.

“My family and I are happy not only for our family, but also for many other immigrants who can have a positive precedent to give them hope.”

The first thing Figueroa plans to after he leaves the church is visit Rodney Watson, an American soldier who has lived in sanctuary at the Downtown Eastside’s First United Church since 2009, when Canadian immigration officials ordered him deported.

“I’m going to go visit him and … give him hope there is a solution that will come to him, too,” Figueroa said.

 

– with files from Monique Tamminga

 

Just Posted

Motorcyclist slides under dump truck

Bike operator lucky to survive collision at Aldergrove intersection

VIDEO: Flood album

Images of rising water levels were captured by Times reporter and readers

Langley Township firefighters extract cow from fish pond

Bovine fell in after escaping from neighbouring property

Cruising the Valley and outfitting a ride for Doug

This year’s fundraiser about finding and converting a vehicle for charity ride namesake Doug Penner.

54-40 headlines Aldergrove Fair Days

Free concerts series at 106th annual Fair Days, July 20-22

Police release video on how to ‘run, hide, fight’ if there’s an active shooter

Vancouver police offer video with input from E-Comm, BC EHS, Vancouver Fire and Rescue

5 to start your day

Two-year-old found unresponsive in pool, third sex assault in less than a week in Surrey and more

Two-year-old found unresponsive in pool

Mission RCMP located toddler after she went missing from a local daycare

Toronto opening 800 emergency spaces to deal with influx of refugee claimants

Beginning Thursday, Toronto will temporarily house refugee claimants and new arrivals in 400 beds in the city’s east end.

Breaking: Trump cancels summit with North Korea

Trump cancels June 12 summit with North Korea’s Kim, citing ‘tremendous anger and open hostility’ in recent statement

Rivers rising: Floods in B.C., New Brunswick a warning of what’s to come

In B.C., thousands of residents are returning to homes this week marked with red or yellow signs indicating a health inspection is necessary

North Korea demolishes nuke test site with series of blasts

North Korea has carried out what it says is the demolition of its nuclear test site in the presence of foreign journalists.

Wildfire sparks near perimeter of devastating 2017 Elephant Hill fire

Ground crews and aircraft are responding to an estimated 50 hectare wildfire approximately 55 kilometers northwest of Kamloops, near the Deadman Vidette Road.

Study recommends jurors receive more financial and psychological support

Federal justice committee calls for 11 policy changes to mitigate juror stress

Most Read