New Internationalist

I was in an art class’

Issue 433

The day Canadian immigration authorities came to arrest a 15-year-old Costa Rican schoolgirl.

The year was 2006. I remember it was the end of April because it happened after my mum’s birthday.

I was the last to be arrested, but my mum told me about her and my grandparents’ arrest. My grandmother had just arrived at my parents’ apartment. The immigration officers knocked on the door and my mum opened. There was a woman and a man outside. They both just burst into the apartment and told my mum to change. The woman even stayed in the room while my mum was changing. They took my mum, grandmother and my sister and went up to the fourth floor where my grandparents lived to take my grandfather, too.

Then they went to the school campus and arrested my brother. He was at lunch. The principal went into the cafeteria and told my brother to pick up his stuff and go with her. She didn’t tell him exactly what was happening because he was with his friends. Later he was told everything and arrested.

From there they went to my campus. I was at art class. They PA-ed my teacher to the principal’s office. After a few minutes my teacher came to the class and told me to pick up my stuff and go to the principal’s office. My friends were all surprised because it was very rare for me to be called up to the principal’s office.

In the office there was a lady with the secretary. I went into the office and the principal told me what had happened and she told me they had been talking to the lady for a while already but they couldn’t do anything. I had to leave. My principal was crying, my teacher was crying and I, of course, was crying.

We went to the detention centre. We all left in the same van: my grandparents, mum, sister, brother and myself. My dad wasn’t arrested. He was working far away, but they were looking for him.

At the detention centre, they interviewed us and told us what was going to happen. They said they needed to find my dad. They asked me if I wanted to ask anything and all I asked was: “Why us?”

At the time it was a really hard question. Why us? We’re a good family, hard-working, studying in school. After that we were separated. My grandfather went where the men were. My brother, my sister and I stayed in the same room with my mum. My grandmother was on the same floor but in a separate room.

I was scared. I didn’t eat breakfast. I didn’t eat lunch. I didn’t eat anything. I wasn’t hungry. My mum wouldn’t eat either; she was pretty broken down. My friends came to visit but it was a 30-minute visit per family.

That same day there were parent-teacher interviews at my school, so my dad went to the school where he talked to the principal. It was then that they contacted the organization No One Is Illegal.

A lawyer from that organization helped us with the case. He was great with us, guiding us through it and helping us with everything. Given what the lawyer told him, my dad decided to go to the immigration authorities so that everything would come to an end, or at least to work things out through lawyers so that maybe we could come to an agreement to stay longer, or stay in Canada as residents. But we were given until 1 July and then we would have to leave.

The lawyer who had followed our case before No One Is Illegal came to our aid had disappeared into thin air. One day we knew where he was, then the next we didn’t have any information about him. He had charged us a lot of fees for work that he had supposedly done. Afterwards we found out that he had never even filed the case with the immigration authorities.

We had a lot of support from certain politicians, and with the media and everyone involved they managed to get my brother, my sister and myself out of the detention centre. People were really helpful and concerned about what was happening.

There were two other Costa Rican girls from elementary school who were arrested that same day. It was different for them because the immigration people went into the school, called the kids into the office and from there they called their parents saying: “If you don’t report to school in 30 minutes, we’re taking your kids.”

The fact that we were given until 1 July, “Canada Day”, was another thing that the media talked about. They said: “How can a Canadian-born citizen be deported on Canada Day?” The Canadian-born was my younger sister. We were given about two months so that we could finish the school year.

Coming back to Costa Rica was difficult. We are Costa Rican born, but we’re Canadian raised. People here are different and we were raised in a different country, with a different culture and with different beliefs. My sister asks about Canada all the time, even though she was two when we left. She wants to go see the snow.

Interview by *Ian Fitzpatrick*.

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  1. #1 MelodyAtHome 15 Jan 12

    Great article but I don't understand why you and your family were arrested. Can you explain? We are thinking of going to Costa Rica with our children. Thanks.

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This article was originally published in issue 433

New Internationalist Magazine issue 433
Issue 433

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New Internationalist Magazine Issue 436

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