Adriana Rosales Contreras and Alberto Vargas Mendez came to Canada more than a decade ago for a better life — and found it.
In that time, they’ve had a daughter, who’s now in kindergarten at Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary School. They’ve built a life, a home and a community in New Westminster.
Now they risk losing it all — and their community is asking the federal government to make sure that doesn’t happen.
More than a hundred community members rallied outside the school on Monday night to support the couple and to call on federal officials to hear their case before a looming July 8 deportation deadline.
“I’m going to ask the government of Canada to please let this family that contributes to their society stay. Let our kids grow together. Please,” said Elsa Sanchez, a longtime friend of Rosales Contreras. “She’s the kind of friend who would help you with your kids for you to go out and study without charging you a penny, even though she was struggling. She’s the kind of friend who’s always gonna be there for you no matter what it takes.”
CBSA apprehended New Westminster mom in November
Rosales Contreras and Vargas Mendez are at the heart of an immigration dispute that came to a head on Nov. 30, 2021, when Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers apprehended Rosales Contreras on the street as she walked home after dropping her daughter off at school.
Their story began more than a decade ago, when they first arrived in Canada as refugees.
The couple’s application for refugee status in Canada was heard at the Immigration and Refugee Board by a tribunal member who was himself a former CBSA officer, according to Sanctuary Health, a grassroots organization dedicated to helping people with precarious immigration status that has been campaigning on behalf of the couple.
Omar Chu of Sanctuary Health said the board member agreed the couple faced real risk if they were to stay in Mexico, where they said they faced “involuntary recruitment” into organized crime. But the IRB said that, because the same risk was true of many people in their home country, Rosales Contreras and Vargas Mendez were not in need of specific protection.
The couple did not have a lawyer at the time and, Chu said, did not understand how to appeal the decision.
In August 2021, the couple applied for permanent residence in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, but the application sat unopened until November 2021. At that point, Chu said, the government returned the application because the forms had since become out of date – but the family did not learn of that fact until after Rosales Contreras had been handcuffed on her way home from her daughter’s school.
The couple resubmitted the application.
But that doesn’t stop the CBSA process — and a current removal order says that if the family doesn’t leave Canada by July 8, they will be deported to Mexico.
Vargas Mendez said they are an “honest and hard-working family” who came to Canada like many immigrants, looking for new opportunities and a better quality of life.
“We are part of this community, and, like any other parents, we want what is best for our daughter,” he said. “We ask Canada to let us stay home and continue to contribute meaningfully to our community.”
‘Systemic racism’ at play in immigration case: advocate
The whole story doesn’t sit well with New Westminster city councillor Chinu Das, who said it’s “disturbing” the couple is facing the threat of deportation even though they have an active case asking to remain on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
“It bothers me a lot that, right now, the federal government is looking to bring in so many refugees from another country under humanitarian and compassionate grounds, and we cannot extend that to this one family here,” Das said at the rally. “Is that too much to ask, or to have an expedited process?”
Chu has two words for the way the couple’s case is being handled: systemic racism.
“This government says they want to eliminate systemic racism. I can’t think of a clearer example of systemic racism than the government trying to deport this family because they say that other people in Mexico faced the same risk,” he said.
Sanctuary school policy at risk: New Westminster school trustee
For New Westminster school trustee Maya Russell, the case is disturbing on many levels — not the least of which is the fact that School District 40 has a sanctuary schools policy in place that allows all children to attend school, regardless of their family’s immigration status.
It’s the only school district in B.C. to have such a policy.
Sanctuary Health said the CBSA previously contacted the school but, under the sanctuary schools policy, they were not given any information about the family. Instead, Chu said, it appears they chose to surveil them instead.
Russell said the handling of the case works against everything SD40 has tried to establish in building “safety, security and comfort” for every child.
“CBSA’s tactics in this case are so shocking and abhorrent,” she said. “Stalking a family during the busy school drop-off period, pulling somebody over, hauling them into a van — this has shattered the safety that we have worked so hard to establish and that this school community upholds every day.”
Russell said there’s an “easy fix” to the problem.
“There’s a reason why there’s a humanitarian and compassionate appeal avenue provided for families. This case is so clear: A child born in this country, this beautiful family should remain here,” she said. “It’s a piece of paper that the (immigration) minister can pull out and sign because we are Canada, because we are human, because that’s what that process is set up for.
“It shouldn’t be this hard for this family to get that protection.”
Chu said the issue extends beyond this one case, noting other people in Canada are facing the same dilemma. He wants to see the process changed so that those appealing to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds can’t be removed from the country before their appeals are heard.
Sanctuary Health has a letter-writing campaign underway urging Immigration Minister Sean Fraser and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino to allow Rosales Conteras and Vargas Mendez to stay. You can find a link to the Keep Adriana and Alberto Home campaign online.