Korean family facing deportation over autistic son allowed to stay in New Brunswick

Posted by admin on Jun 9th, 2011

Canadian Press, Jun. 9 2011

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney will rescind a deportation order for a South Korean family at the centre of a growing public protest in New Brunswick now that the province has confirmed it will cover health costs associated with the family’s autistic son, a federal source confirmed Thursday. The Maeng family’s story attracted national attention because federal officials had said the family had to leave Canada by June 30 because providing health care and social services for 14-year-old Sung-Joo would put too much strain on the system.

On Wednesday, the New Brunswick government responded to growing public outrage by handing a private letter to the Moncton family confirming the province will cover the costs.

In Ottawa, the senior Citizenship and Immigration Canada source confirmed the four-member family will be allowed to stay in Canada to continue the process of seeking permanent residency. He said Mr. Kenney’s department couldn’t act until Thursday when it received New Brunswick’s commitment in writing. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because of privacy issues surrounding the case.

Sung-Joo’s mother, Hee-Eun Jang, said she was elated with the decision.

“I feel good, awesome, very good,” she said in an interview from the family’s grocery store. She said the support the family received from across Canada was “unbelievable.”

An online petition supporting the family’s wish to stay in Canada had attracted 7,000 signatures, and a protest rally was scheduled for Sunday in Moncton.

“I’m so glad, and appreciate that,” the boy’s mother said. “Sung-Joo is doing very well. When my family is happy, he’s happy.”

Sung-Joo was diagnosed with autism and epilepsy in 2001.

The Maeng family came to Moncton from Seoul in 2003, hoping the fresh air in the Maritimes would improve the health of their youngest son. At the time, they were granted temporary work visas, having disclosed Sung-Joo’s health conditions to federal officials.

A few years later, the boy’s parents opened their grocery store and pressed ahead with the family’s bid for permanent residency.

But their dream of raising their sons in Canada fell apart May 31 when Mr. Kenney’s department told them they could no longer stay.

Sung-Joo’s older brother, 19-year-old Jung-Joo Maeng, has a student visa and is studying science at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Jung-Joo, who also goes by the name John, has said his younger brother is non-verbal, but is learning to communicate, mainly by pointing at objects. As well, he said Sung-Joo would find it difficult moving back to South Korea, where there is less tolerance for people with autism.

Lawyer Jack Haller said he and the two other lawyers working on the case were baffled by the federal government’s initial decision to deport the family, and the legal team was poised to seek an injunction to stop the process.

He said Sung-Joo’s neurologist had said it would be unsafe for the boy to board a plane to Asia.

Mr. Haller said the family faced some real challenges if they were forced to return to South Korea.

“The services are far superior here than anything he would receive in [South] Korea.”

Earlier in the day, the family took part in a news conference in Moncton, where John Maeng thanked Canadians for their support.

“We were just so shocked,” he said. “We were thrilled and found a little more hope.”

Afterwards, Sung-Joo’s mother said her youngest son understood that the family had cause to celebrate.

“He absolutely knows that,” she said.

The federal Immigration and Refugee Protection Act states that foreign nationals can be deemed inadmissible to Canada if their health problems could “cause excessive demand on health or social services.”

The threshold is determined by calculating the estimated cost of health care and social services over a five- or 10-year period. If the figure exceeds $5,935 annually – the average per-capita expenditure on health and social services in Canada – permanent residency can be denied.

Mr. Haller said Sung-Joo doesn’t require expensive medications, will likely be home-schooled and has incurred about $1,000 in hospital-care costs in the past four years.

Last year, about 1,200 applicants were rejected for permanent residency because of health cost concerns.

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