News / Vancouver

Vancouver family reunited after Honduran dad’s three-year deportation

Renan Aviles Hernandez grateful to rejoin his wife and daughter in Canada, but his lawyer wants answers over his filmed-for-TV arrest.

Accompanied by his son Christopher (right), Renan Aviles Hernandez receives a hug from his step-daughter Aaliyah upon arriving at Vancouver airport in late January, after his wife Diana Thompson's successful three-year effort to sponsor him as a permanent resident.

Courtesy of Diana Thompson

Accompanied by his son Christopher (right), Renan Aviles Hernandez receives a hug from his step-daughter Aaliyah upon arriving at Vancouver airport in late January, after his wife Diana Thompson's successful three-year effort to sponsor him as a permanent resident.

Renan Aviles Hernandez remembers the fateful day in he answered a knock on the door he was painting at an East Vancouver construction site in late March 2013.

He was expecting it was his coworkers inviting him to lunch. It wasn’t.

“It was immigration,” the 38-year-old told Metro. “He told me I was under arrest.”

In the hallway outside, two of his coworkers were already in handcuffs. But it wasn’t just Canada Border Services Agency enforcement officers in the scene. There were also video cameras from a reality television show, Border Security: Canada’s Front Line.

On Monday, Metro reported that the show was cancelled after a three-year campaign by activists, a ruling by Canada’s privacy commissioner finding the show had violated privacy law, and a petition launched by Aviles Hernandez’s Canadian wife, Diana Thompson, to scrap the show.

“People don’t need our hardships exploited on TV,” she told Metro. “It’s not entertainment. We’re real people with real feelings.”

The couple married in 2012. She has an 11-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, and he a 12-year-old son from another. But the Honduran was living here without legal papers.

When Thompson received a call from his coworker about his arrest, the moment she’d long feared had come: “Everything just stopped — I felt kind of lost.”

As he faced deportation from Vancouver airport, Diana and her daughter were even barred from saying goodbye.

“I wish I had the opportunity to give them a hug,” he said. “I wasn’t allowed to see them.”

She immediately began a three-year crusade to bring him back and sponsor him as a spouse, a costly process she’d begun before his arrest. In January, her effort paid off: Canada accepted him as a permanent resident and he returned. The separation had been hardest on her daughter.

“It took its toll on her,” Thompson said. “She was always asking, ‘When’s he coming? Why can’t he come here?’

“She was definitely heartbroken and confused about the whole thing.”

According to the family’s Vancouver lawyer, Zool Suleman, although Aviles Hernandez overstayed his original visa in Canada, CBSA could have taken into account his roots here, his lack of criminal record and his family, and granted a humanitarian exception without removing him.

“He should not have been deported at all,” Suleman said. “This has caused great anguish to his family, and of course the children in his life. To separate a father from his family is a really serious thing. I think CBSA needs to review its policy.”

Suleman wants to know why the agency “seemed very bent on deporting everyone caught as part of this film project,” he said. “In my mind, there’s no doubt the hysteria around the film project clouded their judgment.”

In a statement Sunday, a CBSA spokeswoman said the TV show was intended to "foster greater public awareness and appreciation for the challenging environment in which the Agency delivers border services," but that it had decided not to continue participating "after thorough internal discussion on the benefits" to the agency.

In 2013, the federal agency issued a statement in the wake of the construction site raid that resulted in Aviles Hernandez and seven others' deportations.

"Individuals working illegally in Canada undermine the integrity of our immigration system," the earlier statement read. "Employment fraud is one of CBSA’s national enforcement priorities, and any foreign national working illegally in Canada may face criminal charges under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and may be issued a removal order.

"Everyone ordered removed from Canada is entitled to due process before the law and all removal orders are subject to various levels of appeal, including judicial review."

Three years later, Thompson and Aviles Hernandez are now settling into the next phase of their family’s life back in Vancouver. Like thousands of other Vancouverites, the family spent Sunday enjoying the tastes, sights and sounds of Italian Day on Commercial Drive.

“It felt so free to go there with my family," he said. "And I don’t have to be worried anymore about immigration.”

More on Metronews.ca