CLASP legal team saves family of York student from deportation in last-minute court reprieve

Photo of Osgoode students Brandon Jeffrey Jang (left) and Emma Sandri outside the CLASP office at Osgoode
CLASP students Brandon Jeffrey Jang (left) and Emma Sandri

With only 11 hours to spare, student lawyers with Osgoode’s Community & Legal Aid Services Program (CLASP) have saved the parents of a York University student from family breakup and deportation to Colombia, where they faced potential danger or even death.

When 2L student Brandon Jeffrey Jang and 3L student Emma Sandri learned on Dec. 18 that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) had ordered the parents to board a Colombia-bound plane in Toronto on Jan. 18, they worked full out over the Christmas break to prepare about 1,000 pages of legal submissions to stop the deportation. Their request was initially denied by the CBSA, so they filed two supporting applications with the Federal Court, under the supervision of CLASP review counsel Subodh Bharati.

On Jan. 17th, they appeared in person before a Federal Court judge in Toronto to make their case for the family, which has lived in Canada since 2009. The couple’s adult son is a student in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science and their daughter is set to graduate from Queen’s University and plans to study medicine. The son and daughter, who already have permanent residency status in Canada, faced being separated from their parents if the deportation had gone ahead as scheduled. The family breakup also threatened their academic careers.

The family expressed their gratitude in an emotional email.

“Thank you very much for all the effort that you put in our case,” the mother wrote. “I don’t have enough words to express what I feel right now and to say thank you. You are the best lawyers that Toronto has. Gracias, amigos! God bless you!”

Their joy was shared by the CLASP team.

“We were just so happy,” said Jang about hearing news of the successful stay application. “We’ve built a close connection with the family and we’ve all worked extremely hard on this case.

“That’s the amazing part about CLASP,” he added, “is that we’re able to take on these very unique, complicated cases that have a tremendous impact on people’s lives.”

Jang said the experience has confirmed his desire to pursue a career in immigration law – and this summer he will work for Toronto immigration law firm Green and Spiegel LLP.

Sandri said that preparing hundreds of pages of court applications in a month was a tremendous challenge, but learning that the family can stay in Canada as a result of their efforts was a huge relief and incredibly rewarding.

“It was difficult in terms of wanting to put out our best work in such a limited time span,” she explained, “and we really felt the pressure of the fact these people’s lives were possibly at stake.”

As they waited for the court decision, she added, “we both couldn’t sleep because we were thinking about what’s going to happen to this family and we were really stressing about that.”

Bharati said the condensed time frame and the last-minute court reprieve made the case more intense than many others that CLASP students have worked on. “This one was even more last minute,” he explained, “because it was hours before their deportation flight.”

In the wake of the court decision, Bharati said, the parents can now obtain work permits while they wait for the Federal Court to hear judicial reviews of previous decisions that rejected their applications for permanent residency status on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

The father became a target of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the early 1990s when he became a candidate for the country’s Liberal Party, actively working to prevent youth from joining the paramilitary organization. After numerous threats and the suspected murder of his nephew by FARC members, the family fled to the United States. When they returned to Colombia seven years later, thinking it was safe, the mother was brutally raped and they fled again, eventually making their way to Canada. With the Colombian peace process currently faltering and FARC still a viable force, the family believes their safety could still be threatened if they return to the country.

In Canada, the parents have become actively involved in their Toronto community, volunteering during the pandemic, for example, to deliver food to house-bound, immune-compromised residents.

With the students’ time at CLASP nearing an end, Jang and Sandri expressed special appreciation for Bharati’s guidance and trust.

“All of our experiences at the clinic leading up to this case prepared us for the uphill battle we confronted when fighting for this family,” said Jang. “The result was a total team effort on everybody’s part and it was all worth it.”