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New West rallies in support of sanctuary zones around schools

Rally in response to local family being detained by CBSA

Stay away from schools.

That was the message community members sent to the Canadian Border Services Agency at a rally in support of a local family on Saturday afternoon. The rally followed the recent apprehension of a New West mom shortly after she’d dropped off her young child at elementary school and was walking home through a nearby alley.

“The theme definitely was that CBSA should be staying away from schools, should not be contacting schools, should not surveilling schools,” said Omar Chu, a member of Sanctuary Health, which organized the rally. “And also that we want all districts across the province to implement similar sanctuary schools policies to what we have in New West.”

Dozens of people attended the Dec. 18 rally outside Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary School, including local politicians and members of the school community.

Chu said the family did not attend the rally, but is grateful for the community’s support.

“I think they were heartened to see the community support that is behind them and to see the school put out a message to families,” he said. “The school put out a message to all of the families in the school, and I think that was really nice for them to see, the solidarity of the school.”

Chu said Sanctuary Health has been meeting with different school districts and pushing them to implement a sanctuary schools policy.

In May 2017, the New Westminster School district became B.C.’s first school district to adopt a sanctuary schools policy, which seeks to ensure that families living in the community can access school without fearing their information will be shared with federal immigration authorities, unless there is a specific case where it may be required to do so by law. To date, it remains the only school district in the province to have adopted a sanctuary schools policy.

Maya Russell, a New Westminster school trustee, said families must be safe in bringing their children to school.

“The sanctuary schools policy is something we really believe in. We believe that schools are in the education businesss and not in the border control business,” she told the Record before the rally. “We have worked really hard to build trust so that families who may have precarious immigration status, the children are not living in hiding and they are participating in school like other children in the community.”

In a statement to the Record, the Canada Border Services Agency confirmed its officers were in New Westminster on Nov. 30 while carrying out their duties as part of an Immigration and Refugee Protection Act investigation. It stressed that its officers did not enter school property at any time.

Russell said the school district was “alarmed” that CBSA appeared to be targeting a family based on the children’s attendance at school.

“The belief in the community at least is that they appear to have followed the mother from school and appeared to be looking for her at the school,” she said. “So, all outside the school but using the child’s participation in school to track down the parent.”

Russell said the school district has heard from a number of parents who were concerned and upset that a Canadian-born student is facing a risk of deportation.

“It was certainly alarming and upsetting for the whole school community,” she said. “We know that our immigration system creates a lot of vulnerabilities that we often don’t see. I really believe our children should not be made to suffer from the problems in our immigration system.”

According to Sanctuary Health members, the family has been living in Canada for more than 10 years and the child was born in Canada. The couple initially made a refugee claim when they came to Canada from Mexico, but they didn’t have legal representation at the hearing; prior to being detained by CBSA, their new lawyer had submitted an application that they family be permitted to stay in Canada permanently on the basis of humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

The Canadian Border Services Agency could not provide details on the case because of privacy laws.

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus