Miguel and Maribel Gonzales are trying to rally the community behind their fight to stay in Canada.
But like so many Latino refugees who came to Whitehorse around 2003 and who have subsequently been sent back to their original countries — despite desperate calls for foreign workers by local companies — the Gonzales family is starting to lose hope.
“We were rejected as refugee claimants two years ago and right now we are just in the last part of the process,” said 32-year-old Miguel Gonzales on Thursday as his four children played in the family’s townhouse.
“Before they could remove a family from Canada they need to assess if there’s any risk that could befall them,” said 27-year-old Maribel. “They will see the best interest of the children, and if the situation in our home country is different or has changed in some way.
“But it has a low chance of acceptance,” she said. “Our lawyer told us we have the chance to be accepted of about three per cent.”
As she spoke, seven-year-old Saul and nine-year-old Bruno played in a corner of the room.
“Three per cent of staying here?” Bruno piped up. “We’re never gonna make it.”
Maribel, Miguel, Bruno and Saul arrived in Toronto as refugee claimants from Mexico City in May 2003.
They moved to Whitehorse about a year later in search of jobs and a safe place to raise their kids.
Miguel works as a painter and recently finished a year-long contract at the athletes’ village to prepare the facility for the Canada Games.
Maribel works as a child care worker.
Since coming to Whitehorse, Miguel and Maribel have had two children — one-year-old Violetta (nicknamed “Aurora”) and a son.
But in February 2005, the family’s claims as refugees were rejected by the department of Citizenship and Immigration.
The government stated the family would be safe in Mexico despite their claims to the contrary, but also acknowledgement that their credibility is not an issue, explained Maribel.
The family is now in the throes of a last-ditch assessment that can prevent a deportation, but requires them to prove they will face danger if they return to Mexico, said Maribel.
“Our home country’s not protecting people the way it should be,” she said, noting that kidnapping, violence and fear are facts of life there.
The family is also applying to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
“I guess for that we have a pretty good chance of success,” said Maribel. “But it doesn’t stop a deportation, that’s the problem.”
The pre-risk assessment that the family is pinning their hopes on often finds against people and deports them before a decision on humanitarian grounds is reached.
Once back in their original country, immigrants then fall off Canada’s radar, said Maribel.
“You will have to go to your country and wait for a decision, which is likely not to happen,” she said.
“It makes no sense,” said Miguel.
Miguel and Maribel have gathered about 200 signatures from neighbours, friends and community supporters, including Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, Yukon Health Minister Brad Cathers and Riverdale-North MLA Ted Staffen.
“We trust all the things we are doing are going to be looked at and considered,” said Maribel.
The pre-risk assessment decision could be completed in two weeks or six months, she said.
Until then, the family must wait.
Hair Sensations owner Rick Karpe knows the Gonzales family and has seen several Latino families deported from Whitehorse.
He even hired an immigrant worker at his hair salon only to see her sent to Costa Rica two years ago after a long fight that included a threat of a hunger strike by his wife, Joy.
Karpe is disturbed that hard-working refugees are being deported when Whitehorse companies are desperate for workers and are even seeking them from as far off as the Philippines.
“Along comes the labour market problem — and we really need people here, and some of our employers are forced to go overseas and bring employees in — while we have all these people right here who are working,” said Karp.
“And now the refugee board is continuing to send them home when we should be sitting here negotiating what we have to do to keep them here.”
Ottawa recently extended the amount of time foreign workers coming to Canada can stay, to two years from one, said Karp.
“Wow, that’s fantastic, but all of a sudden we have this situation, and there doesn’t seem to be any desire or willingness to talk,” he said.
High Country Inn owner Barry Bellchambers is less reserved in his outrage toward the immigration system.
While other companies try to bring immigrant workers into Whitehorse, he just lost his best janitor.
He was deported to Argentina last week and forced to leave behind his daughter, said Bellchambers.
“It’s fucking ridiculous; he was such a good employee,” he said on Thursday. “It’s a fucking tragedy. We’re applying for positions. Now we have to apply for another one like him.”
The worker, Danielle Giaccaglia, was “as steady as they come, a nice guy, and always did what you wanted,” said Bellchambers.
The High Country has not been able to fill the position since Giaccaglia was deported, he said.
Bellchambers and his accountant worked to have the man stay, but to no avail.
“The system fucking stinks,” said Bellchambers. “I don’t know why they couldn’t have given them an extension. It’s just ridiculous.”
Officials in Vancouver with Citizenship and Immigration refused to speak about any specific refugee or deportation case due to the Privacy Act.
An official suggested speaking with the Canada Border Services Agency.
No one from the agency returned phone calls.
“This is our home,” explained Miguel. “We feel sad when somebody says, ‘Maybe they are going to send you back home.’
“Our home is here. I am pretty sure that ‘home’ is the place where you feel safe, and we feel safe here.”