Mail-order bride ordered deported

Posted by admin on Jul 28th, 2008

Lena Sin. The Province. Monday, July 28, 2008

A Russian mail-order bride’s attempt to trade the anguish of her old life for a better one in the West has ended in bitter disappointment as she faces deportation from B.C. Nelli Tikhonova was a hopeful 20-year-old when she arrived in Surrey in 1996 with her American husband. Today, she’s a 32-year-old abandoned single mother. “It was beyond my control,” says Tikhonova. “[My husband] left at the end of 2000. He was going to Saipan [in the Northern Mariana Islands] for business purposes. He said he was going to return to take care of my [immigration] paperwork. He never did.” With no legal status in Canada because of her husband’s failure to process the immigration paperwork, Tikhonova now faces deportation despite being the mother of a Canadian-born child.

Her application for permanent residency based on compassionate and humanitarian grounds was rejected last fall.

She appealed to the Federal Court for a judicial review of the immigration decision. That too failed.

“Ms. Tikhonova has had a very difficult childhood and has experienced many difficulties in her past and will undoubtedly face further difficulties in returning to Russia,” Federal Court Judge James Russell said in his decision this month.

“However, I cannot find, on the facts of this case, that the [visa] officer erred.”

Mir Huculak, Tikhonova’s lawyer, fumes at the thought of Tikhonova’s daughter being denied a Canadian childhood.

“[She has] a child who is Canadian and the immigration officer says she can take the child [to Russia] and the child won’t suffer any harm — but she will,” says Huculak.

“The child won’t have Canadian rights. She won’t have a Canadian education.”

A harrowing childhood in Russia in which Tikhonova’s father allegedly sold her for sex to criminal associates, starting at the age of 13, left Tikhonova desperate to escape, according to court testimony.

Like thousands of young women worldwide caught in miserable circumstances, Tikhonova said she believed becoming a mail-order bride was her ticket out.

She met her American husband, Bert Douglas Montgomery, through a matrimonial ad in 1994. They married the following year in Russia, then moved to Las Vegas.

In 1996, Montgomery moved his business to B.C. and brought his wife with him. While he promised to handle the paperwork for Tikhonova’s landed-immigrant status, it never happened, according to court documents.

In 2000, Montgomery was arrested in Saipan, north of Guam in the Pacific. He was convicted of multiple counts of wire fraud and money laundering and is now serving a 20-year sentence in the U.S. for his part in a scheme to defraud the Bank of Saipan of $6.6 million US.

“I was shocked,” says Tikhonova. “I didn’t know he was this kind of person. It was a shock. He was always kind to me.”

It also came to light that Montgomery was already married when he married Tikhonova, nullifying their marriage, according to court testimony.

While her husband was away, Tikhonova entered into a relationship with another man, with whom she had a daughter in 2004.

Tikhonova alleges he was violent and she left him after the birth of their daughter, Shanice, according to court documents.

While Shanice, now three, is Canadian by birth, Tikhonova has no claim to citizenship.

The mother says if she is deported, her daughter will have to go to Russia because the father plays no role in Shanice’s life.

Tikhonova said she fears her daughter, who is half-black, will face discrimination there.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada sees no reason why mother and child cannot return to Russia and apply to immigrate from there, as per the usual process.

“Given her age, I am not satisfied that Shanice has developed significant attachments to the community or that a significant degree of integration into Canadian society has taken place,” the immigration officer wrote.

Huculak notes that in a similar case in 1999, a Supreme Court of Canada judge concluded that immigration officials should give children’s best interests “substantial weight” in cases involving deportation of their parents.

Huculak says he plans to help Tikhonova launch a second application for permanent residency based on new information.

He said that out of shame, she did not disclose the full extent of the alleged mental and physical abuse she suffered growing up in Russia in her first application.

Tikhonova and her daughter, meanwhile, are living off the generosity of friends she says she met through church.

“She’s a decent person,” says friend Milton Thomas. “I just feel so sad for her and her daughter.”

When asked what she will do if a second application fails, Tikhonova goes silent.

“I don’t know,” she says finally. “I have no contact with Russia. I have no home. Really, I just know Canada.”

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