Deported from Sanctuary, stuck in Sal Salvador

Posted by admin on Jul 6th, 2006

Esperanza Rivera Vaquerano sought refuge here. Now authorities won’t let her leave San Salvador terminal. Maurice Bridge, Vancouver Sun. Published: Thursday, July 06, 2006

A woman deported from Vancouver is stranded at El Salvador International Airport, unable to leave the terminal after being abandoned by Canadian immigration officers who took her there in handcuffs nearly a week ago.

In a real-life variation of the film The Terminal, which stars Tom Hanks as a man trapped without documentation in New York’s Kennedy Airport, she is in limbo — stateless and homeless and comforted by a sister who has been allowed to pass her some money and a toothbrush, but nothing more.

In a callphone interview with The Vancouver Sun Wednesday, Esperanza Rivera Vaquerano, 32, said she has been sleeping on the floor and airport chairs, and has not had a shower, a change of clothes or proper meals since Friday. “I spend a lot of time sleeping, because it’s very uncomfortable and I’m very tired,” she said. “Food here is a little
expensive, so I [only] have something to eat once a day.”

Lawyers in Vancouver and San Salvador, El Salvador’s capital city, are fighting to have her returned to Canada, but have so far been unable to force the Canadian government to live up to a promise it made to bring her back if El Salvador refused her entry.

Vaquerano has been struggling to stay in Canada as a refugee since 2001, and has renounced her Salvadoran citizenship, leaving her with no official homeland. During the conversation with The Sun, Vaquerano said she was taken illegally through Mexico without valid travel documents on June 29 by two Canadian immigration officers.

She claimed one of them warned an official of Mexicana Airlines, which carried them on the last leg of their trip to El Salvador, not to take her back to Mexico. “They made me pass through Mexico without a valid travel document,” she said.

At a hearing in the airport after she arrived in El Salvador with the two Canadian officers, Vaquerano said she was refused entry because she has renounced her El Salvadoran citizenship. She was also told she could not travel anywhere because she lacks valid travel documents. She said the two Canadian women walked out of the hearing before it ended, and one of them said there was nothing more Vaquerano could do. “She just left, and she said, ‘We’re not going to sign any document,’ and they just left me there without any resolution,” she recalled.

To add to Vaquerano’s discomfort, Mexicana Airlines still has her bags, and has not given them to her despite repeated pleas. “I [told them I] haven’t brushed my teeth, I haven’t showered, I haven’t changed my clothes, my underclothes, nothing,” she said. “They are just ignoring me; they don’t want to give me my luggage.”

She said she finally persuaded the airline to allow her sister – a Canadian immigrant who has gone to El Salvador to help her — to pass her a toothbrush and some small towels, as well as some money, which she said she spends mostly on cookies, because they are cheap.

Vaquerano’s fight to stay in Canada has been going on for six years, but took a bad turn about two weeks ago when she briefly left the shelter of the New Westminster church where she has lived in sanctuary for nearly a year.

Pastor Paul Reynolds said Vaquerano had not been well, and the wife of one of the church’s ministers suggested some fresh air would improve her health. She took her on a road trip to the beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, June 20, but made an illegal turn on the way and was stopped by police, who checked the identities of both women.

Vaquerano was taken into custody, turned over to immigration, and deported on June 29.

Reynolds said the church quickly launched a legal challenge that was ultimately unsuccessful, but managed to obtain an affidavit from Trent Cook, who is in charge of immigration removals in Vancouver, which said: “I have made arrangements for two removal officers to accompany Ms. Vaquerano to El Salvador. The officers are prepared to attend with Ms. Vaquerano at the port of entry until it is determined if the Salvadoran authorities will permit her to enter the country. If she is not allowed to enter the country, the officers will accompany her back to Canada.”

A message on Cook’s telephone Wednesday said he was out of the office until today.

Janis Fergusson, a communications manager with the Canadian Border Services Agency in Vancouver, said she could not comment on the details of Vaquerano’s case because it is before the courts.

However, she indicated the Canadian immigration officers have told a different story of the events surrounding the deportation.

“The information you have is not consistent with our information,” she said. “Generally speaking, when removal orders take place against a foreign national, that person has to be authorized to enter the country of destination.”

In Vancouver, immigration lawyer Rico Rey Hipolito said a teleconference with a federal court judge is scheduled for this morning.

“We want an order compelling the Canadian Border Services Agency to do what they promised,” Hipolito said.

“Number one, they said they would wait, and number two, if she is refused, they would accompany her back to Canada.”

Hipolito pointed out Vaquerano’s entry document for El Salvador lists her departure country as Mexico rather than Canada, and he blames the immigration officials who took her there.

“These officers who accompanied her knew what they were doing,” he said. “They’re no average Joes, so they can’t say, ‘Oh, we made a mistake’.”

Vaquerano applied for refugee status in 2000 after arriving here from the U.S. after leaving El Salvador. She said she feared reprisal from pro-government groups who believed her family had supported the guerrillas during the El Salvador’s civil war.

She said she endured years of threats and assaults in the mid-’90s in El Salvador and no longer felt safe, even though the civil war ended in 1992. She left the country after hearing from her aunt that her uncle had been “hacked to death with machetes” in 1996.

The Refugee Board of Canada denied her claim in 2001, citing a lack of evidence that she would face persecution. She was due to be deported in early 2002, but renounced her Salvadoran citizenship, believing that would prevent her from being sent back.

On May 25, 2005, the Canadian Border Services Agency attempted to deport her, but she went into sanctuary at Emmanuel Pentecostal Church in New Westminster, where she had been working for the past five years, according to Reynolds.

The pastor said he kept her in sanctuary after challenging the federal government to ensure she would only be legally returned to the country and would be kept safe in the process.

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