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How immigration dreams turned into nightmares

A proposed class action suit targets an immigration consultant. Advocates say Canada’s system encourages scams.
Canada’s immigration system is ‘prone to exploitation and preying on vulnerable people,’ says a lawyer handling a proposed class action suit against an immigration consultant.

Andres Medellin thought he had struck gold. 

In 2021, Medellin says a  Vancouver immigration consultant pitched him and a room full of other Latin American workers on a wunderkind Canadian immigration program that  could allow anyone to legally remain and work in the country.

Instead, Medellin is back home in Mexico, his dreams of studying in Canada on hold and his immigration file full  of red flags that will cause future problems.

Medellin and dozens of other migrant  workers, mostly Mexicans, are suing that consultant, Liza Lucion,  alleging she collected thousands in fees to apply for a Canadian  immigration program that never existed.  

The proposed class action  lawsuit against Lucion, which is not yet certified, alleges the  consultant’s actions deprived clients of their chance to apply for  other, legitimate ways of staying in the country.

The lawsuit has been filed  with the B.C. Supreme Court and Lucion has filed a statement of defence.  The next step is a hearing on whether the class action lawsuit can  proceed.

Some of the clients, like Medellin, have  since either chosen or been forced to leave. Lucion’s licence to work as  an immigration consultant has since been indefinitely suspended by the  College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants.

Lucion categorically denies the allegations against her, which have yet to be tested in a court of law.

In a statement sent by her lawyer, Lucion  said she “made her best efforts to honestly and in good faith provide  foreign nationals in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic with  information regarding the options available to maintain legal status in  Canada based on relevant government policies.” 

She said complainants “likely misunderstood  what she told them and have been encouraged by others to make this  vicious attack on her business and reputation.”

Susanna Quail, co-counsel for the proposed  class action lawsuit against Lucion, says the case highlights deep flaws  in Canada’s immigration system.

The system is “so prone to exploitation and preying on vulnerable people,” Quail said. 

Medellin says he met Lucion at a time of  uncertainly. He arrived in Vancouver in August 2019 on a visitor visa.  Medellin had visited the city when he was 15 and was staying with  friends in town. 

Then the COVID-19 pandemic began. Medellin  said he had apprehensions about returning home, fearful he would spread  the virus to his mother and family. “I considered myself a visitor that  was stranded in Canada,” Medellin said in a phone interview from Mexico  City. 

Over time, Medellin said, he began working  construction jobs to make ends meet, getting paid in cash. He knew it  was illegal, he said, and felt ashamed for going around the law. 

“I know I was doing that illegally. I don’t  want people in Canada to get me wrong. We are proud of working very  hard, but shameful at the same time because of being illegal. It’s a  sentiment that is not very easy to communicate,” Medellin said. “We feel  ashamed because we really respect the country. It could sound a little  contradictory.”

Medellin said a job site supervisor  recommended he see Lucion. He remembers sitting in the waiting room of  her consulting firm with between 10 and 12 other people, mostly Latin  American. He said they received a presentation — translated by an  interpreter into Spanish — about a new program, which Lucion said had  been opened to all migrants in response to the COVID-19 pandemic  regardless of their legal status in the country. Medellin said Lucion  told them she had special knowledge of the program, which is why it was  not publicly advertised. 

In her filed court response,  Lucion said those meetings happened but argued she had only promoted  existing and legitimate immigration programs into Canada. In the chaos  of the early COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government had implemented  policy changes aimed at helping migrant workers stay in the country,  including temporary measures giving migrant workers more time to restore  temporary residence status. Her statement of defence says she had an  “honestly held belief” that applicants would be legally eligible for the  programs they applied for.  

Medellin said Lucion told the crowd the  process cost $7,000 — half to start, and the other half upon completion.  He says she urged them to apply soon, since spots were limited. 

Medellin was suspicious but desperate. He  had a dream of getting legal status in Canada and eventually going to  graduate school at the University of British Columbia to study art  history. “My impression was, if something good comes out from this, I do  not want to be out of it,” Medellin said. 

He described himself as holding out the money with one hand while using the other to cover his eyes and turn his head away. 

Quail says the roughly 50 other  migrant workers who have come forward describe a similar pattern: an  information session of eight to 12 people, a request for cash, then  silence. 

“For some people, it appears she took their  money and did nothing. And then for some people she took their money  and did other kinds of applications they weren’t actually eligible for,”  Quail said. 

Medellin alleges Lucion had promised she  could secure a visa in as little as two weeks. But his messages to her  went largely unanswered. 

At one point, he said Lucion told him she  could not explain the delay because he did not speak English, a language  he commanded well enough to conduct a 45-minute interview with The  Tyee. 

Concerns about the promises began to spread  through the Mexican community in the Lower Mainland. Medellin said he  hosted information sessions with workers in Stanley Park and the issue  was discussed on social media. 

Court filings show Lucion sued two separate  people she alleged had defamed her in a Facebook group. She also sued  three other people after a tense office meeting, where one of the  defendants claimed Lucion had threatened to have the three of them  deported. None of those cases appear to have moved forward in the court  system beyond statements of defence. 

It is not the first time Lucion took court  action against a critic. In 2017, she sued a fellow member of a Filipino  volleyball team for, among other things, “purposely hitting the ball  aiming to the plaintiff.” 

Word about the allegations reached Berenice  Díaz Ceballos, Mexico’s consul general in Vancouver, who said the  consulate began to direct affected migrants towards Quail’s legal team. 

“Some had to leave Canada, because there  were no options and they were in a risky situation. They didn’t have  status anymore,” Ceballos said in a November interview. She worries some  people may not know about the lawsuit. 

“Here you are deciding or obstructing the  opportunities of real people, of real families,” Ceballos said. “When  humans are involved, it’s a very sensitive issue.” 

Quail believes the case highlights  longstanding problems with the Canadian immigration system that place  desperate, vulnerable workers at risk. 

Many economic migrant workers coming to the  country are on strict closed permits, allowing them to work only for a  specific employer in a specific location at a specific time. Getting an  open work permit is considerably more difficult.  

“At each step of this process, we have  people who are very vulnerable to being scammed by consultants, because  people are really desperate for a way to get status in Canada. They hear  it and they want to believe it. If you can get status in Canada, it’s  life-changing,” Quail said.

Immigration consultants in Canada do have a  regulatory college. In July, its disciplinary council passed a decision  to indefinitely suspend Lucion’s right to practise after it received 11  complaints about her in the span of two years. But Quail believes  oversight of consultants is lax compared to other professions, like lawyers. 

On the other hand, expectations of would-be immigrants are strict. 

Amanda Aziz is Quail’s co-counsel on the  lawsuit and a lawyer at the Migrant Workers Centre. She says many of her  clients are often stuck untangling themselves from legal trouble after  an issue with an immigration application or being misrepresented by a  consultant. 

“For the most part, people aren’t coming to  Canada and enjoying living here without status and just being flagrant  about the immigration system,” Aziz said. “For the most part, people are  trying very hard to make sure their status is legal, working very hard  to make sure they can get their next status. We make it difficult, and  when a mistake is made, we make it very hard for them to fix.” 

In October 2021, months after he met Liza  Lucion, Medellin got a visit from immigration officials. He was not  deported, he said, but was told he had to leave the country, an order he  complied with. He is now back in Mexico City. He is currently appealing  a rejected application for a student visa in Canada. He hopes the  lawsuit, if it is certified and successful, will help clear his name  with Canada’s immigration officials. 

“We know that we could get money out of the  class action, but we’re not really concerned about this… Money is not  important to us,” Medellin said. “We want justice."