Baby Francesca De Sousa remained contentedly oblivious to the tearful and joyous return to Canada of her parents and two older sisters yesterday, about 10 months after they were deported to Portugal.
Francesca's mother Maria De Sousa, 36, was seven months pregnant when she, husband Antonio, 37, and daughters Tanya, 13, and Anna, 11, left – after four years in Canada and a failed bid to stay here on a refugee asylum claim.
They were among hundreds of Portuguese families deported last year, mostly after overstaying work permits and visitor's visas.
"We don't know what the future is going to bring us," said Maria, as her sister-in-law translated the thoughts she expressed after landing at Pearson International Airport on an Air Transat flight from Lisbon.
"Everybody loves the country – the husband, the wife, the kids, even the little one, for sure she's going to love the country," said Maria.
"We're happy. It's a new life. There's hope for us for a better life, so it's good," she added.
Their arrival was the result of a one-year temporary resident permit signed by the minister of immigration after assurances of a guaranteed job for Antonio De Sousa as a roofer in the GTA's booming construction industry.
Returns like that of the De Sousas leave Peter Ferreira, president of the Portuguese Canadian National Congress – who fought last year's boost in deportations of Portuguese migrants, many of them construction workers – wondering why the government was so insistent on sending them packing in the first place.
"That's the million-dollar question," said Ferreira, saying last year's deportations were needless.
Ferreira said he knows of at least a dozen such families who have already returned, some just months after their removal. He estimates that about 80 per cent of the 400 or so removed last year are either back or in the process of coming back.
He said it's possible the immigration department wanted to send a hard-line message.
"Maybe the government reassessed the situation," he said. "It was a given that the country needed these people and continues to need these highly skilled individuals."
The deportations made headlines after it was revealed that Canada Border Services Agents entered schools to enforce deportation orders, in one case taking children into custody first to lure their parents out. Many of the Portuguese workers, who had entered Canada as visitors or on temporary work permits, had lodged refugee claims in an effort to stay, based on misleading information.
The rise in deportations sparked demonstrations urging then immigration minister Monte Solberg to let the hard-working families remain.
It's estimated that 200,000 people of various nationalities are living illegally in Canada, often in industries that face a labour shortage such as construction and hospitality. One estimate suggests that there are at least 15,000 undocumented immigrants in Toronto's Portuguese community.
Solberg denied at the time that a crackdown was underway but said it was important to uphold Canada's immigration laws while showing compassion toward families being uprooted, sometimes after years of getting themselves established here.
In many cases, the Portuguese who applied for refugee status would not have sufficient "points" to win admission to Canada under the normal immigration procedure, which strongly emphasizes education level, language skills and job experience.
Ferreira said those returning are doing so on written guarantees from employers to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada stating that a job is available to them that could not be filled by a legal resident of Canada. The request then requires the consent of the minister of immigration.
A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Diane Finley said he could not comment on the situation of the returning Portuguese deportees because of privacy considerations.
But another immigration department spokesperson said temporary residence and work permit holders could apply to have their stay extended.
She said the question of whether they could apply for permanent residency in Canada would "depend on the individual circumstances of the family."
thxs Phinjo Gombu
The Toronto Star