Edmonton-based chair of national migrant rights group faces deportation

Danilo De Leon, chair of Migrante Canada, faces deportation to the Philippines on Monday, Aug. 29. (Nathan Gross/CBC - image credit)
Danilo De Leon, chair of Migrante Canada, faces deportation to the Philippines on Monday, Aug. 29. (Nathan Gross/CBC - image credit)

For over a decade, he has helped countless people navigate the challenges of the Canadian immigration system, but now the chair of a national migrant rights group is fighting against his own scheduled deportation.

Danilo De Leon, national chair of Migrante Canada, is set to leave the country for the Philippines on Monday. His temporary residency status expired in 2016; since then he has been an undocumented worker.

"For me, being undocumented is not illegal. It's not a crime," De Leon said this week as he was packing his belongings.

"I want them to respect us and realize that we are human beings and we need help."

De Leon's case has been amplified by the cross-Canadian organization Migrant Rights Network, which has circulated a petition calling on Ottawa to halt deportations and provide permanent resident status to everyone currently in Canada without status.

Now 51, De Leon arrived in Edmonton in 2009 from the Philippines through the Temporary Foreign Worker program. He worked as a cleaner for Bee Clean Building Maintenance.

In January 2017, he tried to extend his work permit, which was set to expire in December of that year. At the same time, he also requested to restore his temporary residency status, which had expired on Dec. 2, 2016.

Under federal rules, he had 90 days to apply for restoration of his temporary resident status and his authorization to work.

De Leon said he was shocked when an immigration officer informed him in writing in February 2017 that his application to extend his work permit had been rejected because his temporary resident status had expired.

In trying to appeal the decision, De Leon was unable to meet the 90-day window to restore his status.

In March 2018 he was given an exclusion order and was informed that he could enter into a condition with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to report to the agency every two weeks while attempting to appeal the rejection.

Court documents obtained by CBC show De Leon and a lawyer working on his behalf tried to appeal the decision without success.

On July 21 of this year, De Leon received a deportation notice from CBSA, ordering him to leave the country on Aug. 29 and return to the Philippines.

Community activism 

One of De Leon's first acts of activism in Canada was in 2010, when he organized a "Justice for Janitors" campaign and helped form a union at Bee Clean.

He went on to become a founding member of Migrante Alberta, a migrant rights group which is one of 13 chapters of Migrante Canada.

Following his 2018 exclusion order, De Leon tried again in 2020 to apply for an open work permit and a temporary resident permit.

He said he was surprised when he was granted a work permit but denied a temporary resident permit.

Immediately, De Leon said he pursued both part-time and full-time employment to financially support his two daughters and wife who still live in the Philippines.

In a statement, Migrante Canada said De Leon could face political persecution if he is forced to return to the Philippines because of his advocacy for migrant and human rights. Anti-terrorism legislation enacted in 2020 could be used against him, the organization said.

"They use that law on anyone who speaks against the government," De Leon said. "I could be killed, I could be in jail, so those are the kinds of things that I'm scared to go back home."

De Leon and his lawyer, Manraj Sidhu, have tried to have the deportation deferred by submitting a pre-removal risk assessment to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). The assessment is a written statement explaining why he would be at risk of violence or persecution in the Philippines.

De Leon is also pursuing an application to be allowed to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

MP looking into case

CBC requested comment from CBSA. The agency said it can't comment on specific cases without written consent, due to privacy legislation. IRCC also said it couldn't comment on De Leon's case.

On its website, IRCC estimates between 20,000 and 500,000 people in Canada are undocumented and vulnerable "due to their lack of immigration status, as was seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have limited access to health care, social services or employment protections."

CBC requested comment from De Leon's MP, Liberal Randy Boissonnault, who represents Edmonton Centre.

"Minister Boissonnault's constituency office is aware of this case and they have met with Danilo De Leon," Boissonnault's office said in a statement Thursday.

"They are looking into the case and are in contact with colleagues at IRCC. Due to privacy considerations, we cannot provide additional information at this time."