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New West mom's 'terrifying' detention strikes fear among migrants and sparks Dec. 18 rally

Woman detained by CBSA after dropping child off at sanctuary school
Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary
Community members will rally outside Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary School and call for sanctuary zones around B.C. schools.

The "terrifying" detention of a non-status mom after she dropped her child off at a sanctuary school in New West has sparked fears among many migrant families.

Sanctuary Health reports that Canada Border Services Agency officers handcuffed a migrant mother shortly after she dropped her Canadian-born daughter off at kindergarten on Nov. 30.

“She was detained in an alley on her way to her home, but home is a block-and-a-half away from the school,” said Byron Cruz, a member of the Sanctuary Health Collective. “We are very concerned because that means they were following her to the school; they knew which school the kid is going to. It’s terrible. It’s something that we are very concerned about because we don’t feel comfortable now to say, ‘OK, it’s safe to walk to school in New Westminster’ despite the sanctuary policy.”

In May 2017, the New Westminster School District became the first school district in British Columbia to adopt a sanctuary schools policy. The policy seeks to ensure that families living in the community can access school without fearing their information will be shared with federal immigration authorities, unless there is a specific case where it may be required to do so by law.

Omar Chu, a member of Sanctuary Health, said the case has raised fears in the community.

“It’s terrifying,” he said. “People are wondering if they should be sending their kids to school and what the consequences of that could be. It becomes really difficult. It is putting a lot of families in a really difficult situation right now.”

According to Sanctuary Health, the mother was initially handcuffed and detained by Canada Border Services Agency. She was later released, at which point her husband was detained.

“I know that the family now is out of detention, as a whole. They are in close contact with CBSA regarding removal,” Chu told the Record Dec. 16. “The mother and daughter are both in therapy right now dealing with the trauma of what happened.”

On Dec. 18, community members, including students, teachers and school board trustees, will rally outside Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary School to call for schools to be declared sanctuary zones to protect families. 

“We feel like this needs a strong response to demand that CBSA recognize schools as sanctuary zones, that they should not be contacting or surveilling or following people from school,” Chu said.

The rally, taking place on International Migrants Day, is on Saturday, Dec. 18 at 10 a.m. at Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary School, 1714 Eighth Ave.

Speakers at the rally will include: Chu; New Westminster school trustees Maya Russell and Mark Gifford; New Westminster Teachers’ Union president Sarah Wethered; CUPE BC president Karen Ranalletta; and Reverend Emilie Smith of Saint Barnabas Anglican Church.

“We have really been moved by the amount of support in the community,” Chu said. “I think there will be a really strong showing from New Westminster and across the Lower Mainland.”

Leading the way

On International Migrants Day, community members will be demanding that immigration enforcement respect these sanctuary zone designations and not enter, wait outside, or call schools requesting information about migrants. They’ll also be calling on all schools in B.C. to declare themselves sanctuary schools.

Currently, New Westminster is the only district that has adopted a sanctuary schools policy.

“I think this is an important moment where we need all school districts to recognize the harm that this has created and to pass similar sanctuary school policies and send a message to CBSA that children in our province have a right to education without fear,” Chu said.

Karim Hachlaf, superintendent of the New Westminster School District, said the district’s sanctuary schools policy states that personal information of enrolled students or their families will not be shared with federal immigration authorities.

“This is something our employees understand and it is a policy we take very seriously,” he said in a statement to the Record. “As a school district, we’re committed to providing education to all kids living in our community, in a safe and welcoming environment, regardless of immigration status.”

Gurveen Dhaliwal, chair of the New Westminster School Board, said the board was made aware of the situation after it had happened. At Tuesday night’s meeting, she said the board is “horrified” by the actions of CBSA.

“That is a very heartbreaking situation” she said.

Trustee Mark Gifford invited community members to attend the rally. He said it’s a good time reinforce efforts to be a welcoming, inclusive and safe district for all families.

“This action has and is doing great harm to a family, and great harm to the work that we’ve been working towards in this district,” he said.

Gifford noted the school district passed the sanctuary schools policy almost four years ago, after more than a year of work.

“This has been a really difficult period for people involved in the sanctuary schools movement and here in the district,” he said. “We’ve worked hard over the last four years to create a culture of safety and support for all children and families regardless of their immigration status.”

Canada is home

According to Cruz, the family has been living in Canada for more than 10 years and the child was born in Canada. Since moving to Canada from Mexico, he said they have been active volunteers in the community.

Chu said the family’s lawyer recently submitted an application requesting they be permitted to stay in Canada permanently on the basis of humanitarian and compassionate grounds. He said the made a refugee claim when they came to Canada, but they didn’t have representation at the hearing.

“They have an application for permanent residency on compassionate and humanitarian grounds,” he said. “They have applied for permanent residency, and this (detention) happened while that application was in process.”

In a statement to the Record, the Canada Border Services Agency confirmed its officers were in New Westminster on Nov. 30 while carrying out their duties as part of an Immigration and Refugee Protection Act investigation. It stressed that its officers did not enter school property at any time.

The Canadian Border Services Agency could not provide details on the case because of privacy laws. It explained that the Immigration and Refugee Board is responsible for determining if a person is inadmissible to Canada; if a person is deemed inadmissible, a removal order is issued, and it is then up to the CBSA to act on the removal.

“The decision to remove someone from Canada is not taken lightly,” said the statement. “Everyone ordered to be removed from Canada is entitled to due process before the law, and all removal orders are subject to various levels of appeal.”

According to the CBSA, prior to removal, individuals may seek leave for judicial review, as well as administrative review procedures that assess the potential risk to the person of returning to their country of origin. It said that a pre-removal risk assessment is one of the safeguards in place to ensure people in need of protection are not removed.

Once individuals have exhausted all legal avenues of appeal and due process, however, they are expected to respect our laws and leave Canada or be removed, said the CBSA statement.

“Prior to initiating enforcement action against any individual, the CBSA reviews all relevant factors related to a case,” said the statement. “When it becomes necessary to arrest someone who is evading a removal order, CBSA officers will attempt to arrest at a location where it will not cause a disturbance to the public.”

With files from Julie MacLellan

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus
Email tmcmanus@newwestrecord.ca