Mother and son facing deportation after 19 years in Canada get 3-month reprieve as lawyer fights in court

A Toronto woman and her son who faced deportation after living in Canada for 19 years are now allowed to stay for three more months as their lawyer takes their fight to federal court.

On Friday, just hours after CBC News reported that Nike Okafor’s family risked being torn apart as she and her eldest son were ordered to return to Nigeria, the family’s lawyer received a letter from the Canada Border Services Agency accepting their deferral request.

Okafor, 39, and her 21-year-old Nigerian-born son, Sydney, had been preparing to say goodbye to her Canadian husband and two Nigerian-born children. They were due to arrive at Toronto’s Pearson Airport on July 26.

“After reviewing your request, I am of the opinion that a deferral of the removal order is appropriate in the circumstances,” the CBSA letter read. However, he adds that the agency has an obligation to carry out the evictions “as soon as reasonably possible”.

Okafor and her son had been in Canada for nearly two decades before she received a deportation order last May.

“My whole life is here”

All this time later, she never imagined she would be torn from her husband and two children, all Canadian citizens, and forced to return to the country she fled.

Instead, the mother-of-three found herself once again fighting for her future, as well as that of her son, who arrived with her at the age of two all those years ago. She was pregnant with her second child at the time.

“If I have to go back, it will end my life,” Okafor said in tears. “I’m going to be separated from my husband, I’m going to be separated from my Canadian children, I don’t know how I can live.”

“My whole life is here.

WATCH | “It will end my life,” says a mother facing deportation after 19 years in Canada:

‘Please let me stay here,’ says mother facing deportation after 19 years in Canada

After nearly two decades in Canada, Nike Okafor faces deportation to Nigeria despite having a Canadian husband and two Canadian children, due to delays in processing her spousal sponsorship application. The mother-of-three speaks to CBC Toronto about her wish to stay in the country.

Okafor arrived in Canada as an asylum seeker in 2003. A Muslim, she had a son with a Christian and says she feared the boy would be taken from her amid religious tensions in northern Nigeria. She fled to secure a future for both of them, she told CBC News.

Her asylum application was rejected, but while Okafor appealed and tried to find a way to stay, life went on. She said she had been told to stay in close contact with the CBSA over the years and had done so.

In the meantime, she enrolled in school, got a job as a personal support worker, had two Canadian-born children, met the man she was to marry, and builds a future she never thought possible at home.

But that future was nearly cut short.

“Very, very unfair”

Last April, Okafor and her son, who are currently in Canada without status, suddenly received a deportation order from the CBSA. This is despite the fact that her husband applied for spousal sponsorship with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) more than two years ago.

WATCH | This Canadian may have to say goodbye to his wife as she faces deportation:

This Canadian citizen may have to say goodbye to his wife as she faces deportation

Rotimi Odunaiya’s wife, Nike Okafor, faces deportation to Nigeria after living in Canada for 19 years following delays in the government’s processing of her application. He talks to CBC Toronto about the message he has for the government.

According to the federal government’s website, the average processing time for spousal sponsorships is 15 months. Okafor has already been waiting 28 months and says she would have long been a permanent resident if not for the delays.

It’s a situation that Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, describes as “very, very unfair”.

“I think most Canadians, when they look at these situations, think it doesn’t make sense, and of course, how come one part of government is somehow undermining the efforts of the other ? Do they talk to each other?” Dench said.

“And basically the answer is no…at least not on individual cases.”

Dench said that while a case like Okafor’s involves both CBSA and IRCC, both departments work under their specific mandates, with the former focusing on law enforcement and the latter selecting and facilitating new residents.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, calls the situation Okafor and her son face “unfair”. (Radio Canada)

The IRCC website indicates that one of the ministry’s objectives is “family reunification”. Yet there does not appear to be a mechanism to prevent the CBSA from removing someone even if they have a family-related application for permanent residence in progress, as is the case for Okafor and his son.

Dench said she hopes that will change soon, noting that the federal immigration minister’s mandate letter urged her to consider expanding options for undocumented workers.

“We hope that the government will see the opportunity to really regularize a very large number of people and put an end to this kind of contradiction,” she said.

Family reunification, a “pillar” of the immigration system

In a statement to CBC News, IRCC said Okafor and her son’s application for permanent residency is “pending review” and will be subject to “objective consideration.”

The department wouldn’t say how long the wait will be and said processing times for some applications may vary due to the “unique nature” of each case. He also did not explain how a person whose application is pending could receive a deportation order or if the IRCC contacts the CBSA to prevent such situations.

“Family reunification is a fundamental pillar of our immigration system, and IRCC strives to process applications for permanent residence quickly while performing all the checks required by law,” the statement said.

The CBSA told CBC News that “the decision to remove someone from Canada is not taken lightly.”

There are “various reasons” that could prevent the speedy execution of a removal order, he said. Having a child born in Canada does not prevent a person from being deported, but he added that “the CBSA always considers the best interests of the child before deporting someone.”

As time is running out for Okafor and her family, Toronto-based immigration lawyer Vakkas Bilsin hopes the spousal sponsorship will be approved within three months of being granted to the family. (Radio Canada)

As time is running out for Okafor and her family, Toronto-based immigration attorney Vakkas Bilsin has taken the case to federal court and hopes the spousal sponsorship will be approved within three months the family has been granted.

“Knowingly sending Mrs and Mr Okafor into the inevitable, grave and irreparable harm that awaits them in Nigeria is callous and runs counter to every fiber on which Canada’s immigration and refugee system and Canadian society have sprung. been built,” Bilsin wrote in a recent petition calling on the CBSA to postpone their deportation.

Speaking to CBC News, Bilsin said he had seen no explanation as to why the CBSA chose to pull the two all these years later.

“I think she deserves to be in Canada. She may not have permanent residency, but she is Canadian at heart.”

“We should start our lives over again”

As their deportation date approached, Okafor’s eldest son tried to figure out what it would mean to leave behind the only country he calls home.

Enrolled in a sports management program at Humber College, he didn’t know if he would be in Canada to complete it. He also worried about his younger siblings who looked up to him.

As their deportation date nears, Okafor’s Nigerian-born son Sydney, now 21, tries to figure out what it would mean to leave behind the only country he called his home. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

“If we were to leave, we would have to start our lives over again,” he said. “That wouldn’t be right.”

Okafor’s husband, Rotimi Odunaiya, a Canadian citizen she has been with for 10 years and married for about five years, said the family was living one day at a time, hoping the government would step in to keep them together.

“Someone who’s lived a life here, up to two decades…contributing to society, working as a PSW – that’s no joke,” he said. “If someone says it can’t happen in Canada, yes it is happening.”

“We are a family,” he said. “Don’t divide us.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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