December 11, 2023

Immigration Marriage

Feel Good With Immigration

Family of 9 facing deportation in Hamilton says immigration process left them ‘devastated’

This year should be one of the happiest in Sarah Alsaleh’s life.

The 25-year-old newlywed just moved into a new house with her husband and she was early in her pregnancy with her first child. 

“I couldn’t stop crying,” she said.

Last month Alsaleh, with eight members of her family—including three children under 10 years old —were served deportation orders that would send them to Jordan, set for July 14. 

Alsaleh said she never lived in Jordan, although the family has Jordanian citizenship. Her father told CBC the family is Palestinian.

Last month, Alsaleh had a miscarriage. She told CBC Hamilton she believes the stress from the deportation order contributed to losing her baby.

“When I talk to my lawyer, he was like, ‘Sarah, maybe you have a higher risk of a high risk pregnancy and you can’t be dealing with this much of stress.’ But, I’m losing my family, maybe I’m losing also my husband,” she said. 

Family came to Canada to be together

Alsaleh’s family came to Canada in February 2022. She said before coming to North America, her family had been living in Qatar for decades.

She said they left Qatar because they were not citizens, and as foreigners, they had no protection. 

“When we arrived here [in Canada], we felt so safe. We felt like life smiles to us,” she said. 

Her father, Yasir, was born and raised in Qatar. Her mother, Ana, is from Romania. Alsaleh said her parents faced Islamophobia in Romania and feel concerned for their safety if they go to Jordan. 

“We have a problem there. We have a danger there. It’s a risk for us to go there,” she said.

Alsaleh and her family said they were not comfortable explaining the risks they face in Jordan because of safety concerns. 

The government of Canada’s website has a travel advisory for the country, stating visitors should “exercise a high degree of caution in Jordan due to the threat of terrorism, civil unrest and demonstrations.”

A husband and wife at a dinner table.
Yasir Alsaleh and his wife, Ana Marecek, brought their children and grandchildren to Canada, seeking to be reunited with Marecek’s sister. They are now all facing deportation. (Cara Nickerson/CBC)

Alsaleh said her family chose Canada because Alsaleh’s aunt, her father’s sister, immigrated to Hamilton in 2017 and is pursuing permanent resident status. 

“She was separated from my mother when she came here,” Alsaleh said, adding that little over a year after being reunited, her mother and aunt will be separated again. 

Alsaleh’s husband Adnan Taha, 36, was born and raised in Hamilton.

He said the whole experience has changed how he sees the immigration process in his country. 

“To see family ripped away from each other… You know, I really wish Canada would have a focus on family reunification,” he said. 

Immigration process can be overwhelming, confusing to new Canadians

Canada’s immigration process can be “very confusing” for many people entering the country, said immigration lawyer Daniel Kingwell, who is representing Alsaleh’s family. 

“It’s hard to know what to file. It’s hard to know how everything interacts,” he said. 

Alsaleh said her family had an immigration consultant when they arrived in February 2022 and did not know they needed a lawyer to properly navigate the immigration system. 

“When we applied for refugee [status], our consultant only knows basic legal things,” she said.

“But we didn’t know that.”

The family was initially seeking refugee status, but Alsaleh said they filed paperwork improperly and did not have adequate legal counsel in the crucial first few months of settling in Canada. 

Marriage to Canadian citizen won’t stop deportation 

Taha and Alsaleh met through family friends and were married this past January. 

But their marriage won’t stop Alsaleh from being deported. 

Karine Martel, spokesperson for the Canadian Border Services Agency, told CBC Hamilton, “Being married to a Canadian citizen does not automatically prevent the removal of a foreign national.”

Kingwell said from the perspective of the CBSA, Alsaleh and her family’s deportation is business as usual. “People get deported. Families get separated. That’s the norm. Apply from abroad like everyone else.”

“People’s intuition is to say if you’re married to someone, you should be allowed to stay, but for a variety of reasons that’s not the case.”

He said the whole immigration process, from refugee claims to humanitarian applications, are “all highly discretionary”, and depend on the CBSA officers handling a case. 

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson Isabelle Dubois said someone in Alsaleh’s position would likely need to apply for an Authorization to return to Canada following deportation. 

Deportation process takes mental, physical toll on family

Taha said the deportation has taken a toll on the whole family’s physical and mental health.

He is still “heartbroken” over his wife losing her pregnancy, he said.

But Taha said he is also heartbroken watching the affect the deportation has had on Alsaleh’s nine-year-old sister and three-year-old niece, who have had to attend CBSA meetings about the deportation. 

Two little girls at a dinner table
Sarah Alsaleh’s younger sister, Lujain, and her niece, Haya, have been negatively impacted by the stress of their family’s deportation. (Cara Nickerson/CBC )

“Directly after those meetings they’re withdrawn. They’re just, like, almost catatonic after those meetings, you know, and they’re just weeping silently,” he said. 

He said Alsaleh and her family have all had to attend counselling to deal with the stress of the deportation order. 

“Nobody wants to be separated,” Taha said, adding that even if he and Alsaleh successfully apply for her return to Canada, she will not be the same without her family. 

“She’s going to be devastated.”