Saturday, October 18, 2008

Road to redemption

Last June 16, 2008, I wrote in this blog about two Filipino women on the verge of deportation after coming to Canada to work as live-in caregivers. When they applied for permanent resident status after completing two years of their work contract, they were both refused.

The first woman, Juana, was denied her application for permanent residence when she was diagnosed with colon cancer that has already metastasized in her body. She was considered a burden on Canada’s social services and health programs. A couple who was deeply touched by Juana’s plight started a petition on the Internet requesting the government of Canada to open its heart and grant Juana’s dying wish to gain resident status. The petition caught fire with thousands signing up. Ultimately, the Canadian government gave in and allowed Juana and her husband to stay as permanent residents.

The other woman, Mylah, received an exclusion order, which in common parlance is a deportation order. An immigration officer found that she had contravened Canada’s immigration laws by continuing to remain in the country after her work permit expired and her application for permanent residence was refused. The immigration officer did not consider her special circumstances which were brought about by a simple mistake when she submitted a wrong application, a mistake that could have been corrected at the very first opportunity by the immigration officer who reviewed her applications.

I brought an application for judicial review before the Federal Court of Canada on behalf of Mylah, and the judge hearing the application last October 8, 2008, made an order in her favour, setting aside the exclusion order and remanding Mylah’s case to a new re-determination hearing so an immigration officer can consider if there were special circumstances that would justify not to issue a removal order.

Two recent cases I was personally involved in, both pro bono, as part of my efforts for redemption from the error of my ways. Back in 1998, and out of character, I committed an egregious blunder that wrought havoc to me professionally. Constantly troubled by that past incident, I decided not to continue with my law practice. My mind was not into it anymore. Instead, I have chosen to offer my time and services for free, helping people in need of legal assistance to the fullest extent possible and within the bounds of the law. I have since joined the Parish Social Ministry of Our Lady of Lourdes in Toronto where I volunteer every Friday afternoon helping and counselling people applying for refugee protection as well as new immigrants needing assistance in resettlement and reunification with their families.

Rising up again from a devastating fall from grace and restoring one’s spirit is not an easy task in a society that looks down on people who go astray. Oftentimes, one’s persecution seems like the yoke of a life sentence, with the road to redemption becoming longer and narrower each passing day. People seem unable to forgive easily. Your detractors do not tire in resurrecting your past, and your list of critics and enemies gets longer while your friends slowly distance themselves.

How I wish it were a mere religious sin. Perhaps through repentance and acceptance of my sins, God would have loved me back and that would have taken the burden of guilt off my back. Because we all believe in a loving God, it makes it less painful to own up to one’s sins. There is always the hope that God in His goodness will offer redemption and reconciliation.

In the real world, however, reconciliation does not come easy. If it were only up to God, then everything in this world would have been a piece of cake. Mortals as we are, we human beings are far less forgiving; we keep memories etched in permanence. Despite one’s efforts to repay the cost of the damage and rebuild one’s integrity, some people will always be tempted to continue casting stones. While some may be ready to forgive, there will always be others who would refuse to forget. This is a challenge I try to face each day as I go about my tasks humbly, knowing that the road to redemption is not planted with roses.

Therefore, in the black holes of my personal universe, I strive to shine, hoping my star will sparkle again as I reach out to others to find our common human ground, or at least the ability to work and live together. Every morning, I continue to rise up welcoming the new day with the fervent hope that even though the forgiveness I seek will never change the past, that it has enlarged the future.

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