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January 26, 2011

Ottawa deporting Salvadorean José Figueroa

The Canadian Charger

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José Figueroa is currently facing deportation as a threat to national security. When he was a high school student in El Salvador he joined the FMLN (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberacíon Nacional). The FMLN began as a left-wing guerilla organization opposing the military dictatorship and the death squads and their political masters in the ARENA (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista).

ARENA controlled the government in El Salvador between 1989 and 2009.  The death squad activity declined markedly when a peace treaty was arranged in 1992 between the FLMN and the government, though the death squads are still not completely silenced.

Figueroa’s actions can be seen as quite like what a young person in apartheid South Africa might have done in joining the African National Congress.  There is no claim that he took part in any violent activities.  Yet, after 13 years in Canada, married and living with his wife and three Canadian-born children, he is threatened with deportation to the country he fled because of death threats and gun shots. 

While still in El Salvador, he was impressed by the human rights activities of the Lutheran church, and it is no surprise, then, that on getting established in Langley, British Columbia, he and his family became involved in the local Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, where the pastor, Rev. Karl Keller, is a strong defender of the family. 

Among those calling for Figueroa to be allowed to remain are his MP, Conservative Mark Warawa, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, as well as two NDP members in adjacent ridings, Don Davies and Peter Julian.  Across the country and in the United States people are lending their names to the campaign to have the Harper government allow the Figueroas to stay. 

Since arriving in Canada, he has held a variety of jobs, working in a saw mill, then in a warehouse where he operated a forklift, and now in a factory making radiators.  His wife must stay home to care for and work with their one son who is autistic.  Fortunately, he is rather high-functioning, and the parents were both teachers back in El Salvador, giving them some preparation for the task of parenting him, but they of course rely on expert help.  They are concerned that if they are forced to go back to El Salvador he will be unable to receive the specialized attention he requires.

The parents have been unable to get provincial health insurance because of their precarious status in Canada.  Yet, in spite of Figueroa’s blue-collar employment history in Canada and his wife’s inability to work outside the home due to her responsibilities with her son, the family has managed on his sole income. 

Having lived in Langley for all these years without any difficulties with officials and having been self-supporting in spite of the challenges faced by a family with special needs, a single breadwinner, and no health insurance, his non-violent participation in a movement against a military dictatorship prior to coming to Canada, a movement now the government in El Salvador, it is hard to understand why Canada would want to throw him and the family out.  This is clearly the kind of hard-working, committed family that would be a credit to any country.

When Warawa is sitting there in a Cabinet meeting, perhaps he can give Prime Minister Harper a nudge and urge him to back off. 

Warawa was reluctant to lend his name to the cause till he met Figueroa, but now he knows how wrong it would be to force the family to leave. 

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Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University and the author of several books focussing on the Middle East including 'The Hundred Years' War On Palestine'. He explains some of the basic facts of the struggle for Palestinian independence and the creation of the Zionist project of Israel.

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