The couple fled Mexico 13 years ago and have a five-year-old daughter, who was born in Canada.

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A New Westminster school community is rallying around a family fighting deportation to Mexico.

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Adriana Rosales Contreras and Alberto Vargas Mendez came to BC 13 years ago after he was assaulted for refusing to join a criminal organization, said Omar Chu, spokesman for Sanctuary Health, an advocacy group that supports migrants.

The couple applied for refugee status, but they were denied, he said. “There was no lawyer at their hearing, and they didn’t speak English very well. They didn’t know how to appeal.”

Since then, Contreras and Mendez have lived in BC as undocumented migrants. Five years ago, they had a daughter.

Last summer, the couple connected with a lawyer and filed an immigration application, seeking to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. But on Nov. 30, Contreras was arrested by Canada Border Services agents outside Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary after dropping off her daughter de ella at school, said Chu.

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The mother was taken to downtown Vancouver, where she contacted her husband. When he came in, she was released, but he was detained for 48 hours, said Chu. “Since then, they’ve been complying with the CBSA, but as far as we know, removal proceedings are continuing.”

CBSA spokesperson Judith Gadbois-St-Cyr would not comment on the case for privacy reasons, but said the agency has a legal obligation to remove people who are inadmissible to Canada under the Immigration Act.

“The decision to remove someone from Canada is not taken lightly,” she said in a statement, adding CBSA “only actions a removal order once all legal avenues of recourse have been exhausted.” Humanitarian and compassionate grounds applications “do not stay the removal of an individual until an application is submitted and an (Immigration Canada) officer grants Stage 1 approval.”

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Chu said Contreras and Mendez are waiting to hear the results of their immigration application, which was filed in August but wasn’t reviewed until November, by which time some of the forms had expired. They have resubmitted their application.

Alberto Vargas Mendez and Adriana Rosales Contreras came to Canada from Mexico 13 years ago.
Alberto Vargas Mendez and Adriana Rosales Contreras came to Canada from Mexico 13 years ago. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Friends and members of the New Westminster school community are planning a rally in support of the family on Monday at 5 pm outside Tweedsmuir Elementary. Many have already sent letters to the federal immigration minister asking him to approve the family’s application before they are deported.

School trustee Maya Russell said it was disturbing her that Contreras was “tracked” as she dropped off her daughter for school. “It is absolutely distressing and goes against the sense of safety that we try to foster.”

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The school district has an “access for all” policy so all students can attend school regardless of their immigration status. The arrest might deter other undocumented migrants from sending their children to school. Children should be “playing on the playground, not hiding in their homes,” she said.

Family friend Alejandra Lopez said deportation is the “cherry on top of a whole cake of stress.” For 13 years, the family has not had easy access to health care, meaning they worry about getting sick or having an accident. It has been hard to find work, rent a house or pursue any personal goals, she said.

For the last few months, they have been living with friends and accessing the food bank.

In a video posted on Facebook, Contreras and Mendez asked Canada for “an opportunity to be here.”

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As his daughter played at a playground, Mendez said “we are an honest and hard-working family, and we only want an opportunity to keep building a better life for ourselves and our daughter. And (our daughter) doesn’t know any other home but Canada.”

Gadbois-St-Cyr said a Canadian-born child does not prevent the removal of a foreign national. “However, the CBSA always considers the best interest of the child before removing someone. If parents of Canadian children must be removed from Canada, then travel of the children can be facilitated to keep the family together.”

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