Embattled immigrant family prepares to leave

After years of struggling to stay in Canada, Sergio Rojas says he and his family have given up. "I'm too tired to fight," he said from Vancouver yesterday, moments after signing a document to release his lawyer.

After years of struggling to stay in Canada, Sergio Rojas says he and his family have given up.

“I’m too tired to fight,” he said from Vancouver yesterday, moments after signing a document to release his lawyer.

“We can’t do this anymore. We’re leaving and I think it’s best.”

Late last week, the Whitehorse family found out they were being ordered to leave the country.

On March 4, Sergio will board a flight to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico along with his wife Linda and their two sons, Jonathan and Sergio Jr.

When they land, they say there will be no one to greet them at the airport as they have no friends or relatives in that city.

They also worry that three-year-old Jonathan, born in the Yukon, will have nowhere to go to get the constant medical care he needs for his plagiocephaly, torticolis, speech therapy and motor development.

Sergio Jr., seven, was born in California and is an American citizen while his mother is from Nicaragua.

The family originally applied for refugee status when they moved to Canada back in 2008.

That triggered a lengthy investigation, and over the years, they were given non-status work and study permits.

Last August is when things began unraveling.

They were denied both refugee status and permanent residency, as well as their request to stay on compassionate grounds based on Jonathan’s health-care needs. Immigrants qualify for humanitarian compassion if they would “suffer excessive hardship upon returning to their home country.”

The family has sought assistance from Yukon MP Ryan Leef, who took their case to the federal minister of citizenship and immigration, Chris Alexander.

No decision had been made as of this morning, but Leef said Alexander was reviewing the file closely.

* * *

When the News sat down with the family on Sunday, a day before Sergio and his oldest son left for Vancouver, they hadn’t yet given up hope of getting a last-minute reprieve.

An hour-long interview was punctuated with laughter and talk about movies and superheroes, especially Batman, Jonathan’s favourite.

Despite having two three-hour meetings with Leef over the weekend, Sergio and Linda were still confused about the rationale behind the departure order, which they claim is rooted in the false belief that one or both parents have a criminal past.

Both have obtained background checks from the RCMP, which came back negative.

Leef said the family was denied on both fronts because it failed to adequately fill out its paperwork.

“It’s not unusual on first instance, when people make an application (for permanent residency), to have it denied and returned because they need to provide additional information,” he said.

“We’re able to assist with that because we manage north of 200 immigration cases every year. Most of the time, the supplemental information is enough.

“In this case, we looked back at when they were denied (in August), and realized they were missing substantiation of some claims they had made.”

Leef said that he told the family to close the gaps and provide more information, and didn’t hear from them for months.

Because of that, he said he assumed their file was “moving along nicely.”

But the family claims otherwise.

“At the beginning his office told us we had to obey the law,” Sergio said.

“They asked us if we were criminals, and told us Immigration Canada thought we were criminals. But we’re clean.”

* * *

Jonathan was born in 2012 with a condition known as flat head syndrome. For two years, he had to wear a helmet to protect his fragile bones.

Doctors also discovered his hip bone wasn’t growing properly and he had torticolis.

He began receiving early intervention services from the Child Development Centre in Whitehorse due to concerns about his head shape, and making monthly visits to the B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.

On a daily basis, he was seeing an occupational therapist, physiotherapist, speech and language pathologist and early childhood therapy assistant.

In a letter dated Dec. 9, the Child Development Centre stated Jonathan was progressing well and still needed a full developmental assessment to see how his functioning compares to children his age. But without this constant care – which they said he likely wouldn’t receive in Mexico – the letter warns his progress may be compromised.

It’s one of dozens of letters of support the family produced on Sunday, along with hundreds of other pages of documentation it has compiled over the years.

“We don’t know what his condition will be in a few years,” Sergio said.

“We don’t worry about ourselves too much, but what about our kids?”

Sergio proudly displayed the certificates he earned while in Canada, which show he’s qualified to work as a carpenter and heavy machinery operator.

Living on a very tight budget, the family has been forced to get its clothing, furniture and toys at the Whitehorse landfill’s Free Store.

Their savings have gone towards purchasing plane tickets to Mexico.

And yesterday, when the family’s lawyer told them their legal aid money had run out, they had no choice but to release him.

* * *

Today, Linda and Jonathan are flying out to Vancouver to join the rest of the family.

Because they are leaving the country and obeying the departure order, they can immediately re-apply to come back to Canada upon their arrival in Mexico, Leef said.

A deportation order would have meant they would not have been able to re-apply for five years.

A petition being circulated online by the NDP to stop the departure had gathered 109 signatures by press time.

In a news release this week, NDP health critic Jan Stick said the federal government has put the family in a cruel situation.

“Jonathan is a Canadian citizen,” she wrote.

“Will he either be deprived of the health care he needs, or of his family? That’s a choice no family should ever have to make.”

When asked about the option being presented – to leave Jonathan in Whitehorse and put him up for adoption, or bring him to Mexico with the rest of the family – Sergio Jr. had an answer that reflected the entire family’s opinion. “It’s not fair and square,” he said.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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