Daniel Garcia, a Grade 11 student at Parkdale Collegiate Institute, fled from Mexico to Toronto three years ago along with his sister Brenda, who is gay. But their refugee claim failed, and on Thursday evening Garcia, 18, was arrested and taken to a Canada Border Services Agency detention centre, where his sister was already being held.
His supporters say he deserves more time because of the danger he faces in Mexico and legal mishaps that befell his case.
Garcia was living with his sister in Mexico City when threats started to mount against them. On his 12th birthday, he says a group of teenagers hurled homophobic insults against him before attacking and assaulting him.
Two years later, he was sleeping over at a friend’s house with his sister and her partner after a party when somebody fired shots into the room where they were staying.
“I saw blood on my hands,” Garcia recalled in a telephone interview from the detention centre Sunday. His sister’s partner had been hit in the neck; she died en route to hospital, he says.
They moved to different areas of Mexico, but violence followed and they said their reports to police had no effect. The final straw was when a van chased the two in their car at high-speed; Brenda Garcia, 30, says shots were fired, but they managed to escape and went into hiding. A week later, they flew to Canada.
Garcia started at Parkdale Collegiate, where his sister says he thrived, despite arriving speaking no English. Hillel Heinstein, an English and ESL teacher at the school, describes him as a “fantastic student.”
“He takes his education very seriously,” Heinstein said. “He’s really attempting to seize the opportunity here in Canada putting the maximum effort into his classes.”
Heinstein added, “We fear for his safety if he goes back.”
The family’s refugee application was denied last December. According to the Garcias, the judge at their refugee hearing didn’t believe Brenda Garcia’s claim of persecution.
Immigration lawyer Max Berger says he has represented half-a-dozen clients with stories of fleeing Mexico because of persecution for sexual orientation. But he adds that only around 10 per cent of Mexico refugee claims are successful, and claims based on sexual orientation are particularly challenging.
“Often gay and lesbian claims will be refused on the basis that there is sufficient tolerance to live in Mexico City,” where Canadian officials have determined that there is a gay community, Berger says.
Brenda Garcia, who also spoke to the Star from the detention centre, says she has never had contact with any gay community in Mexico City. She said lesbians face much more difficult circumstances than gay men in her country.
Before the pair had a chance to file an appeal, their immigration lawyer suddenly died, the Garcias said. They said they were unable to find new representation because they didn’t have enough money and the case was so advanced.
Garcia, then 17, filled out an appeal known as a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment as best he could with help from the public library. He says he never received a response.
But when he was stopped Thursday by police in Parkdale who claimed shots had been fired in the area and was asked to show his student ID, the officers said there was an immigration warrant for him. Garcia discovered the appeal had been denied.
When Garcia spoke with relatives in Mexico City, they told him word had spread the pair were returning.
“Some people are saying they are going to kill us,” Garcia said. “This time they are not going to give us a choice. They are going to persecute us and wherever we go, we are dead.”
Garcia’s sister’s appeal was denied too, and she was taken to the immigration detention centre on Dec. 15. Her deportation flight leaves early Monday morning.
Garcia has not yet received a date for his deportation, but fears it could come at any time.
Former Parkdale-High Park MP Peggy Nash, who spoke with Garcia and attended a rally for him on Sunday, said his supporters are simply asking for time.
“He hasn’t really had a fair process here. They’re just trying to buy a little time to allow him to make a fair case for himself.”
Several dozen of Garcia’s classmates and other supporters attended the rally at the Eaton Centre, organized by the immigration rights group No One is Illegal, to try to draw attention to the case.
“He needs time to be represented. There needs to be a delay,” said Roger Langen, human rights committee liaison for the Toronto Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation.
There is a petition that you can sign to try and keep Daniel in Canada. God, sometimes I hate the immigration/refugee system in the country so much.