Sanctuary for Mexican family denied asylum from cartel threats

By Geoff Agombar Local Journalism Initiative

“Friday, we find out about this. Saturday, we talk about it. Sunday, we meet as a board and make a decision. Monday, they moved in,” says Shanna Bernier, Program Support Minister for Youth and Young Adults at Plymouth-Trinity United Church. She is describing the whirlwind weekend that has put her and her church at the centre of one family’s drama and at the living edge of an ancient tradition.

Sanctuary is an extralegal practice. By definition, it falls outside the law involving cases that have been denied or fallen through a crack. In popular culture it still holds a certain power and mystique. But since 2004 when police entered a Quebec United Church to arrest Algerian refugee claimant Mohamed Cherfi, precedent proves its protections are not absolute.

Regardless, the tradition stretches back millennia and still wields power of public attention and moral suasion. It could be described as a defense of the spirit of the law when the letter of the law has arguably come up short.

The Record did not have an opportunity to speak with the Rodriguez-Flores family directly on Tuesday, but previous media reporting has described the circumstances of their claim.

Manuel Rodriguez, Georgina Flores and their son Manolo learned a month ago that their claims had been denied. They had questions about whether their legal counsel had been inadequate and whether their case had been filed under appropriate categories. They sought new counsel and met with their local MP to seek avenues for a stay of their deportation order or appeal the decision. But time was very short and few legal avenues remained. Their appeals were denied. The deportation order remains in effect. They were to report to Pierre-Elliott Trudeau airport on Nov. 8. The letter of the law had been exhausted. Time to go.

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