An Interview with Latoya and Kimora
Interviewed by Felix
Note: Both of these individuals supported their partners while they were in immigration detention pending deportation. Both partners endured long-term immigration detention ie. in detention for more than 6 months. Although one partner was released, the other was deported to Nigeria where he currently lives.
Can you explain why your husband was on deportation notice and why he got detained?
L: A deportation notice was issued due to non citizenship status paired with a low record. As a result, he was given a time to be removed, but he was actually sent to immigration detention until his actual departure. In fact, he was incarcerated in a correctional facility as the immigration detention was too full and he remained in the correctional facility
K: My husband was detained because he came into Canada without authorization. He was a resident of the United States and when he came to live in Canada, he filed a refugee claim, which was refused because he was deemed to be inadmissible. After the failed refugee claim, he was given a chance to file a pre-removal risk assessment, which he failed, as do 98% of applicants. He was then deported from Canada. He filed several applications to return to Canada on a temporary visa, all of which were denied. Finally, he came back to Canada and was subsequently arrested by CBSA for entering the country without authorization.
Did you talk to your friends and family about what was going on with your partner? If so, how did you talk to them about it?
L: I didn’t really talk about it to my friends but I did talk about it to family. The family was aware definitely because it would’ve impacted them. But regarding friends, no, because of the stigma, I felt like it wouldn’t be well received. I didn’t think people would know how to take it. Deportation still has stigma associated with it. So nobody in my professional life or friends knew what was going on.
K: In terms of our family members, we were very upfront about what happened. My husband’s family resides in the US and they were very helpful when he was going through the situation. I think everyone understood that him being detained was unfair and that it was no fault of his own. With my kids we didn’t talk about it initially. When my husband was detained, I did not tell the children where he was. I did not know how long his detention was going to be and I didn’t want the children to view him as someone that gets arrested and goes to jail. After about a month or so, they kept asking where he was,. I told them that he went away to work and that he was coming home soon. I think they started to figure it out because whenever he would call I would take his phone calls in a separate room. I believe that sometimes they heard me talk about his situation with his lawyer or with him.
Finally, I explained to them, after eight months, that he was detained and it was not because he was a criminal, but because he came back into the country so that we could be a family. I don’t think they understood the enormity of the situation but they did understand that he was in a bad predicament and that he needed help. They came with me when I attended the Alvin Brown court case and they were there when I spoke to the reporters. At that point, I think they started to understand. I did not allow them to visit him while he was in maximum detention because I did not think that that would be a good way for them to see him. However, when he was transferred to the immigration detention center in Rexdale, we did go and visit him together.
We did not tell friends. We do not want people outside of the family to know what was going on because we felt that naturally they would start to pass judgment or draw their own conclusions as to why he was in jail. So, for the entire time, or up until the time we did media, no one knew where he was or what had happened. I just told them that he was working out of town. After the media coverage however, I did hear from some friends that they saw the news but even then, no one offered to help so I didn’t feel badly about my decision not to let them know
How did you maintain your relationship while your partner was in detention?
L: I couldn’t call him, he could only call me. Often I would talk to him through the Detainee Support Line run by the End Immigration Detention Network. That line was very integral in keeping the lines of communication open. I mean, when you’re going through something like this, having the lines of communication open is so needed, but they make it so that you can’t talk to people. The line was very good for my family to speak with my partner because there would be no other way for us to communicate. I mean, sometimes we could talk when my husband had calls with the lawyer, but the lawyer wouldn’t let me talk. So yeah, it was a really beautiful gift to have that.
K: It was not easy but we made sure that we spoke every day he was able to call. I wrote him letters and I went to visit him whenever I could. The visitation was extremely difficult because initially he was two hours away and I did not have a car, nor did I always have childcare. I didn’t want the children to be there. But for the most part we spoke all the time. When I wasn’t able to afford phone calls he would call through the End Immigration Detention Network Detainee Support line. That was an extremely invaluable resource which I’m very grateful for.
When it came to their legal proceedings, how involved did you get?
L: I was pretty involved. When it’s your partner, you have to get involved even though you’re not going through it, it affects you too. With legal stuff you might feel that your legal reps are smarter and more knowledgeable than you but they’re all human and they are not perfect. So for me I would make sure I knew what was going on in every part of the proceeding. I would do research if I didn’t understand everything and made sure to ask a lot of questions. I was always communicating with the lawyers. At the end of the day though, the immigration system is corrupt. When my husband was detained, long-term detention was at an all time high. They weren’t releasing anybody; it didn’t really matter what you did.
K: I was really involved from the very beginning. I coordinated with the lawyers. I wrote to the director of CBSA frequently, I wrote to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, I wrote to the Public Safety minister, and I was very vocal about how unjust the situation was. Even when the lawyers were handling his situation, I was very diligent about them and getting everything right so I would read over their briefs and everything that was submitted to ensure that no important fact was being left out.
You’re gonna have to make some difficult decisions. But just talking openly with each other as a family is gonna get you through it.
How do you deal with the stress of having a partner in detention?
L: There is no real way to deal with it. You just kind of go through it. You just have to keep going and not give up especially with all of the processes which ultimately causes you to become. Most importantly, you have to be comfortable with being okay if what you hoped is not what actually happens. So decide to expect the best, but also be okay to accept that if what you hoped for doesn’t happen, it’s gonna be okay and that you can get through it. You just have to be realistic with what’s possible.
I know for me, organizing and connecting with others in the beginning also helped to give me momentum and education. I think we need to find connectivity in those who are facing the same things and to try and build communication with each other. I did have to take a break after he was deported. Not initially though. Right after he left I kept organizing but it wasn’t up until maybe two years ago, I had to take a break for my own health. I got tired and I couldn’t carry the load. It’s tough you know. But I would say initially when things happen, it’s good to connect with people. You never know what information and resources people have that can be helpful to you.
K: As with anything that is stressful you just have to make up your mind that you want to see the end result and hope that the end is a successful one. I can’t say that I did any one thing to deal with the stress. I mean I didn’t go to yoga, I didn’t meditate, but I made up my mind about halfway through that I was going to deal with every day one at a time if I was going to survive. At some point I stopped expecting what I wanted and focused on what I could do at the present time to help the situation, if only a little bit. That meant not focusing on his release from detention as much but instead focusing on his mental health, by keeping him in remembrance that there were people on his side. It meant talking to him as much as I could and visiting him every single day when he was moved to the immigration detention center in Rexdale so that he knew I was there for him. It meant showing up at every event that concerned him and doing the things that he couldn’t do for himself which he thought would help i.e. faxing things, talking to the minister, talking to the media, just fighting in general.
What are some things you feel are important to share with someone else who is the partner of someone who is going through a deportation notice or is in detention?
L: There’s hardly anything good in this situation. It’s basically like a physical tear. You’re tearing two people apart and sometimes it’s a whole family. But the one thing that I’ve taken is that to build something tall, you have to build from the ground up. So they tear you down, but it can be an opportunity to build a stronger foundation. You’re gonna have to make some difficult decisions. But just talking openly with each other as a family is gonna get you through it. They make it so negative that you’ll feel tempted not to talk about it at all. Not talking about it is not building any bridges. It’s not going to create any change.
K: The thing I kept in my memory while I was going through everything was what our relationship meant to me. That is one of the things that kept me pushing through each and every day. I reminded myself that he did not deserve to be in the position that he was and that he was a good person and mostly that he deserved a chance to be with his family. And I also thought that it was important for me to believe that if I were in the predicament, he would be there for me as well.
You’ve decided to keep your relationship going, even though your partner ended up getting deported. How have you managed to stay together since he left?
L: I feel like the chips are gonna fall where they lay you know. So you just have to take one step at a time. The thing about it is that he gives me hope and I give him hope. Like when I feel like it’s too much, he’s always there you know? So, how we’ve been able to stay together is always communicating, talking with each other and sometimes when one is down we lift the other person. It also comes down to individuals and how you are as a couple, if you’ll make it work, cause it’ll be very, very, very hard, and if you don’t have it within you, it won’t survive.
I mean I still have to go see him because he can’t see me and that has its own issues. Nigeria is so far that you can’t just go there for a week long trip. It doesn’t work like that. I mean it takes almost two days to get there and the tickets are expensive. Financially this situation impairs you. There’s just so many factors you need to consider. I mean even for me I’m not sure if I’m gonna make it out, but you have to be hopeful that things can change and that’s where I am at. I am both hopeful but realistic that the situation might not change.
Is there anything specific that you would suggest to someone who is the partner of someone either on deportation notice or in detention?
L: The system is so broken. If there’s no justice in the system, there’s no hope, and you have to create that for yourself. Essentially the government is saying come to this country but they want you to figure it out with no tools. I feel like that’s where we all get frazzled. Realistically the bigger picture is that we need to fix the system from the beginning. Once you have the tools, educate others..
And above all remember that nothing is forever and you can get past this. Just do your best and set up support systems so you can get through it.
K: Specifically, I would say don’t give up. I know that is a very cliché thing to say but it is the truth. There are definitely days when you do give up and you don’t feel that you have the energy to even pull yourself into another day. But if your relationship is strong and the person you are with truly is a good person, you continue. Secondly, my advice would be something that I didn’t even do myself, and that is don’t try to handle it on your own. Surround yourself with people who are sympathetic and who genuinely care about what is happening because it can really break you down mentally. Find your networks. For me, getting contact with the End Immigration Detention Network was life changing. I feel the support that I got from them is what brought me to the end of our detention battle, because there were days when I just couldn’t go any further and there was always someone there would call me and ask what I needed and delivered that need. And lastly, take care of yourself. Take yourself out, take your children out, even when you don’t want to, because it is so depressing and so very easy for you to sink way into depression going through this shit. Believe in your strength, that’s what I did.