A personal support worker who faced deportation to Uganda despite working on the front lines during COVID-19 over the past three years has been granted a brief reprieve, days after CBC Toronto reported on her plight.
Fatumah Najjuma, a 29-year-old single mother to a Canadian-born little girl, was facing deportation on Jan. 7, despite having applied for humanitarian and compassionate consideration months earlier.
Now, after going public with her story to CBC Toronto, her deportation has been moved to March 30, giving her precious additional time in which she hopes to secure status in Canada.
"I've been praying and other people have been praying," Najjuma said Wednesday after hearing of the news. "I'm so thankful to everyone for their support."
In particular, Najjuma thanked the nearly 40,000 supporters who have signed an online petition for her deportation to be stayed and the advocacy groups that have raised awareness about her case, including the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
"Migrant organizing has won yet another deferral to a deportation but Fatumah remains in anxious limbo with an uncertain future ahead; we need permanent solutions for everyone and that means permanent resident status for all," the group's executive director Syed Hussan said.
Policy change coming for undocumented workers
As previously reported, Najjuma was facing deportation even as the federal government vowed a year ago to do more to give status to undocumented workers.
Najjuma said she fled Uganda while pregnant in 2018 after she says she was disowned by her family and her life was put in danger for her religious and social affiliations.
For three years, she has worked as a personal support worker in long-term care homes and at people's homes, including during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It's a role in which she says she's found meaning, despite privately facing the terror of losing the life she's built in the safety of Canada.
"My mental health is worsening every day. I'm not sleeping, I'm not eating… Each day that passes, I get more scared," she told CBC Toronto.
Canada had been pressing forward with Najuma's January deportation despite Federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser's mandate, issued by the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year, includes working to "further explore ways of regularizing status for undocumented workers who are contributing to Canadian communities."
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says that work remains underway, but that it cannot comment on programs or policies under development.
That means while a change could soon be coming to ease the path to permanent residence for those like Najjuma, she could still be deported to Uganda while the specifics are ironed out — something Hussan says is "irrational" given that a policy change is underway.
It also means Najjuma could either be separated from her three-year-old daughter, Ilham; or her daughter could be forced to uproot to a country where her mother says her life too would be endangered.
'Not about finding exceptional cases'
Najjuma's deportation deferral also comes after another personal support worker and her son who stood to be torn from their Canadian family members finally received their permanent resident status last week.
Nike Okafor and her son, Sydney, had been in Canada for 19 years and waiting on their sponsorship application to be processed when they were suddenly hit with a deportation order by Canadian Border Services Agency.
As CBC Toronto reported, their nightmare finally ended last Monday, when they got word that their permanent resident application had been approved.
But for Hussan, "It's not about finding exceptional cases, but to take on an unfair and discriminatory system that denies permanent residence to people ... then wrenches them apart from their communities and puts them in situations of risk."
According to the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, there are an estimated half million undocumented people in Canada, and another 1.2 million with study and work permits or claiming asylum — many who can't access basic services and face exploitation by landlords or at work.
Thousands have been deported or face deportation since the immigration mandate a year ago, the group says.
'Not completely relieved'
The IRCC says tens of thousands of temporary workers transition to permanent status each year. Of the 406,000 foreign nationals who became permanent residents in 2021, it says nearly 169,000 of them transitioned from worker status.
The Canadian Border Services Agency previously told CBC Toronto it cannot comment on individual cases for privacy reasons, but that it has a legal obligation to remove those who are inadmissible to Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and who have removal orders in force.
"The decision to remove someone from Canada is not taken lightly," the CBSA said, adding the agency only acts on a removal order "once all legal avenues of recourse have been exhausted."
With her deportation deferred, Najjuma told CBC Toronto she is hoping her application is processed before the clock runs out.
"Until the storm clears, I am not completely relieved," she said.
"All I want is to stay with my daughter, to be with her, to raise her in this country and not anywhere else."