Sanctuary: University of Regina international students avoiding deportation in church basement

For more than a year now, two University of Regina international students have been hiding out in the basement of a church in Regina, attempting to avoid deportation from the country.

Their crime: they accidentally violated the terms and conditions of their study permits by briefly working illegally off-campus at Wal-Mart in 2011. They were ordered by the federal government to leave the country for a year that November.

Twenty-year-old Victoria Ordu and 22-year-old Ihuoma Amadi had been taking classes at the U of R for three years on a scholarship before they ran into legal trouble. The girls worked off-campus for only two weeks, but that was enough for Citizenship and Immigration Canada to attempt to have them deported, saying they didn’t have a work permit to work off-campus.

The two Nigerian students instead decided to seek refuge in a church somewhere in Regina. That is where they have been hiding for the past year.

Both girls told the local media what they did was an honest mistake, adding they did not even know they couldn’t work off-campus. The two students said they immediately quit their jobs when they were told the rules by university staff.

Later, the Canadian Border Services Agency had the two arrested, where they were then scheduled to be deported June 19, 2011. It was while waiting to be deported that the two sought sanctuary in a Regina church.

A massive campaign then began to allow the girls to stay in Canada and have their deportation order revoked. Part of the campaign involved contacting and writing Conservative MPs Jason Kenney, minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and Vic Toews, minister of Public Safety, to attempt to convince both men to step in on this issue and show compassion on the two women.

A spokesman for Kenney told the media that Kenney apparently doesn’t have the authority to reverse deportation orders under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Yeah, uh huh, sure, whatever. As the minister of his department, he should have the power and authority to overturn any deportation order he sees fit.

Moreover, in cases such as this, shouldn’t he at least hear out the girls’ case and maybe think of helping them out in a compassionate manner? I realize Kenney could be inundated with such requests from all across the country, but this case has made national headlines. Surely that warrants a second and third look and some deep contemplation on the matter.

It is quite interesting how these students, who have been in the country for only four years going to school, would be the focus of such intense legal action, compared to other immigrants who have been ordered deported who are still here nine years later. One of the alleged terrorists who plotted to blow up a Via Rail train travelling into Toronto recently had apparently been ordered to leave the country nine years ago because of his shady actions. But he never left and efforts to find him were half-hearted at best.

If he and his comrades’ mission to blow up the train had succeeded, don’t you think there would be some intensive questioning of both Toews and Kenney as to why this illegal immigrant was never pursued as much as he should have been?

Wouldn’t both ministers, or at least Kenney, order the proper policing agencies – the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) in this case – to seek out and redouble their efforts find and deport many of these immigrants who are now here illegally? Instead, more effort seems to be made in deporting two non-terrorist women who made a simple human mistake.

The latest development in the story of the two students has seen three University of Regina professors to start up a legal fund for international students called the UR Legal Defence Fund. The professors explained the two girls’ case proves there is a need for legal assistance within the immigrant student population.

This means if students have to talk to the CBSA, there would be funding available to access a lawyer or legal counsel. Students have to apply to the fund, of course, and it would then be determined if the student meets the requirements. Apparently the fund is already being used for a number of cases, although it is not known if the two girls are using it.

More support has popped up in an effort to help the girls. The Saskatchewan Immigration Justice Network has contacted labour, education and social justice organizations to write letters of support. The National Union of Public and General Employees and the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses have also written to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

Considering these two young women are not terrorists, but are here to get an education and potentially contribute to Canada culturally or economically, and made a simple mistake through naivety, it would behoove Immigration Minister Kenney to consider this case personally, show some compassion and maybe, just maybe, have a heart.

Jason Antonio is the Regina correspondent for Spectator Tribune.