B.C. health minister calls on Ottawa to halt deportation of hospital worker

Claudia Zamorano, who works as a housekeeper at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster B.C., and her family are facing the threat of deportation to Mexico. She hopes they can find a way to remain in Canada. (Janella Hamilton/CBC News - image credit)
Claudia Zamorano, who works as a housekeeper at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster B.C., and her family are facing the threat of deportation to Mexico. She hopes they can find a way to remain in Canada. (Janella Hamilton/CBC News - image credit)

British Columbia's health minister is speaking out in support of a hospital worker at risk of being deported to Mexico, arguing she should be allowed to continue to contribute to the province's health-care system.

Adrian Dix said British Columbians have relied on workers like Claudia Zamorano throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

"After years of helping keep B.C. families safe during their time of need, we owe it to the Zamorano family to keep them safe and strongly urge the federal government to suspend their deportation," said a statement from Dix's office.

Zamorano and her family say they fled Mexico almost five years ago following death threats from organized crime groups in the west coast city of Colima.

"It's hard for us because we are afraid to die," said Zamorano of the danger she felt in Mexico. "I have to sleep with a knife under my bed."

Submitted by Claudia Zamorano
Submitted by Claudia Zamorano

She came to Canada with her husband and daughter, now nine years old, along with her husband's mother and brother.

The 27-year-old works full-time as a housekeeper in the COVID-19 ward at New Westminster's Royal Columbian Hospital while her husband Andres, also 27, works as a carpenter.

"I want to contribute to this country so that's why I am there," said Zamorano.

Zamorano said her mother-in-law volunteers her time making meals for people in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and the family is trying to continue their lives in B.C. despite the anxiety and stress of not knowing whether they will remain here.

"Our mental health is an issue right now," she said. "It's been so hard, but we are here fighting."

Deportation scheduled days before Christmas

The family applied for permanent residency in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds a year ago, but Zamorano says the application has not yet been processed. Meanwhile, she told CBC News the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has issued a removal order for herself and her family for Dec. 19.

"When we were in the CBSA interview, I [was] thinking of my daughter … as a mom and I told her, for my daughter it's going to be a shock … to let her know that we have to leave in December," said Zamorano.

"I explained to the officer if it's possible to deport us in January and have Christmas in Canada? And she said, 'no.'"

Submitted by Claudia Zamorano
Submitted by Claudia Zamorano

The family has also tried to remain in Canada under a federal program for refugees providing direct-patient care, but as a housekeeper she didn't qualify.

Omar Chu of the migrant advocacy group Sanctuary Health says Zamorano and her family are one of the many examples of people who come to Canada seeking safety and are now contributing to their communities despite not having official standing.

"This family came fleeing for their lives," Chu said. "People don't come here for that type of situation unless they are really afraid for their lives. The stress that the system has put them through has been cruel and unnecessary. We need a better system."

The federal government is working on a program that could provide a path to permanent residency for up to 500,000 immigrants who are working in Canada despite not having official standing.

Zamorano is a member of the Hospital Employees' Union, which says she plays an important role in infection control in hospitals.

"It's a scary job but women like Claudia stepped up and they did everything they could," said union spokesperson Mike Old. "It just seems wrong that we would turn our backs on Claudia now. We need to keep every needed health-care worker on the job, and that includes Claudia."

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did not immediately respond to inquiries from CBC News about Zamorano and her family.