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CBSA detention of migrant mom outside B.C. school prompts call for sanctuary zones

Parents and advocates for migrant rights demonstrate at Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary School in New Westminster on Saturday. Global News

Advocates for undocumented immigrants rallied at a New Westminster school on Saturday, where they said Canadian border officials targeted a migrant mother last month.

Omar Chu, a spokesperson for the migrant advocacy group, Sanctuary Health, told Global News the incident happened on Nov. 30, outside Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary.

According to Chu, four Canada Border Services Agency officers followed a woman away from the school, after she had dropped her daughter off, handcuffed her in an alley, and detained her.

The woman, who is originally from Mexico, was released after she agreed to call her husband to come and meet with CBSA officials, who subsequently detained him.

The family’s daughter was born in Canada and is a Canadian citizen. Her parents had submitted an application for permanent residency on humanitarian grounds when the incident occurred, Chu said. They are now facing potential removal from the country, he added.

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“It just shows the injustice of the whole immigration system and how we really need programs that will establish immigration status for all, because there are many people like this family in similar situations living with precarious status,” Chu said.

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“CBSA, by doing this raid, is also creating fear for those families and for their kids.”

The New Westminster School District has a Sanctuary Schools policy, which bars school or district officials from sharing information about students with immigration authorities — unless required by law.

According to Chu, CBSA officials had contacted the school looking for information about the family prior to the Nov. 30 incident, but were turned away due to the policy.

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A spokesperson for the CBSA confirmed that officers were in New Westminster on Nov. 30 “while carrying out their duties as a part of an Immigration and Refugee Protection Act investigation,” adding “it is important to note that at no time did CBSA officers enter the property of any schools in the area.”

The CBSA said it could not share information about specific individuals or files for privacy reasons. But the agency is responsible for enforcing removal orders issued by the Immigration and Refugee Board.

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It said it “reviews all relevant factors” before initiating enforcement against a person,” adding “when it becomes necessary to arrest someone who is evading a removal order, CBSA officers will attempt to arrest at a location where it will not cause a disturbance to the public.”

Advocates at Saturday’s rally called on the CBSA to respect the New Westminster School District and the City of New Westminster’s sanctuary policies.

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“We want to be a welcoming and inclusive city. We too are a sanctuary city, and this is not what we want to see in this community,” New Westminster City Councillor Chinu Das told the crowd.

“Respect the sanctuary zone designations — not enter, not follow people, not call schools requesting information about migrants,” Kathleen Carlsen, chair of the New Westminster District Parent Advisory Council added.

“All children have the right to education without fear. All families should be safe. The role of the district parent advisory council is to support all families, regardless of their immigration status.”

Advocates called on other districts to mirror New Westminster’s sanctuary schools policy, and for the province’s education ministry to recognize it as well.

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