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PSW wins fight to stay in Canada with daughter after deportation order suddenly reversed

She was nearly ripped from her three-year-old daughter, but in a sudden reversal, a Toronto personal support worker who faced deportation despite having worked on the front lines during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic can now stay in Canada permanently.

After going public with her story, Fatumah Najjuma has won her fight for permanent residence.

On Friday, she received word that her permanent resident application on humanitarian grounds was granted.

“This means a lot to me because I have been given a chance to live, stay and raise my baby girl,” Najjuma told CBC Toronto, thanking her lawyer, advocates, her friends and the many strangers who supported her.

“As I am her only living parent, she is going to grow up a happy child because her mother is present in all her life.”

Najjuma, 29, had been facing deportation to Uganda — a country she says she fled for her life after being disowned by her family and for her religious and social affiliations.

Her deportation date had been set for Jan. 7. But after garnering tens of thousands of signatures in an online petition, a campaign by advocacy groups and telling her story to CBC News, her removal was delayed in late December.

Now, her fight is over. But she says she remains concerned about the countless others who find themselves also facing deportation despite Canada’s commitment to work towards granting status to undocumented workers.

“I shouldn’t have to fight for basic rights,” she said. “Everyone deserves status so we can live a good life. I encourage all migrants to speak up and raise their strong voice.”

‘Over 30 people being deported every day’: advocate

Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change shares that concern.

“Thousands of people signed petitions, joined protests and Fatumah bravely spoke up to ensure that her family can now access basic rights that permanent resident status allows but there are over 30 people being deported every day,” he told CBC Toronto.

“It doesn’t make sense to create exceptional measures for each person; we need systematic changes and that means full and permanent immigration status for every migrant including workers, students, refugees and undocumented people.”

Canada had been pressing forward with Najjuma’s deportation despite Federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s mandate, which includes working to “further explore ways of regularizing status for undocumented workers who are contributing to Canadian communities.”

Fatumah Najjuma, 29, is pictured here with her three-year-old daughter, Ilham. Najjuma is facing deportation to Uganda, the country from which she says she ran for her life, because of her religious and social affiliations.
For three years, Fatumah Najjuma worked as a personal support worker in Toronto, including during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Fatumah Najjuma)

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada recently told CBC Toronto that work remains underway, but that it could not 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 in Najjuma’s position, she could have nevertheless been deported while the specifics are ironed out.

Najjuma’s win comes after the end of deportation nightmare for another personal support worker, Nike Okafor, and her son, who faced removal after 19 years in Canada.

As CBC Toronto recently reported, their nightmare finally ended in December, when they got word that their permanent resident application had been approved. 

psw wins fight to stay in canada with daughter after deportation order suddenly reversed 1
Nike Okafor’s family was nearly torn apart as she faced deportation with her eldest son, Sydney, right, after 19 years in Canada. (Submitted by Nike Okafor)

‘The storm is over’

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada told CBC Toronto 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.

Asked why it was removing someone who had an application on humanitarian and compassionate grounds still under way, 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.” 

That’s despite a federal court judge ruling last year that suggested applicants who have worked as health-care aids or on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic deserve special consideration.

“The moral debt owed to immigrants who worked on the front lines to help protect vulnerable people in Canada during the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be overstated,” Justice Shirzad Ahmed wrote. 

As for Najjuma, the news that her own fight is over means she can now envision a stable future for her and her daughter.

“I am going to tell my daughter that the storm is over,” she said. “We have nothing to worry about anymore, we have our peace and freedom now.”

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