Over the summer, things have been looking up for Sarah Alsaleh.
The newlyweds received permanent resident status in August. She is also waiting again after two miscarriages in the past year that she believes were caused in part by the stress of her deportation order.
“In September I will be three months pregnant,” she said.
In June, Alsaleh, 25, and eight members of his family, including three children under the age of 10, received deportation orders requiring them to be sent to Jordan in mid-July.
Alsaleh said he was born and raised in Qatar and never lived in Jordan, although the family has Jordanian citizenship. Her father told CBC Hamilton that the family is Palestinian.
But while Alsaleh’s appointment was canceled due to his permanent resident status, taking a load off his shoulders, the rest of his family faces a deferred but still imminent deportation order. They are among 9,369 Ontarians on the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) removal list.
“It’s just a temporary postponement,” Alsaleh said. “I’m still very afraid for my family.”
Deportation subjects children to “prolonged period of stress”
In the winter, Alsaleh’s parents, Yasir Alsaleh and Ana Marecek, said they were told they had to take their 10-year-old sister, Lujian, and 3-year-old niece, Haya, to a CBSA appointment.
While at the appointment, Alsaleh said Lujian cried and begged the officer not to take his family out.
“Canada recognizes the importance of promoting and safeguarding children’s rights, both in Canada and abroad,” Maria Ladouceur, a spokeswoman for the CBSA, said in an email.
Ladouceur said the agency works “to ensure that decisions on behalf of children are made with their best interests in mind.”
But the CBSA visit, along with the stress of deportation, according to Alsaleh, have had a serious impact on her younger sister’s mental health.
“She still needs therapy because she’s been through a lot.”
According to a mental health professional, the “chronic stress” of a deportation order can be long-lasting, even when the order itself has been deferred.
John McLennan is a child psychologist, associate professor at the University of Calgary, and editor of the Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (CACAP). In May, he wrote a column on the impacts of deportation on children.
“We are all exposed to short-term stress – our bodies are more or less adapted to that – but I think the prolonged period of deportation is a particular concern,” he said, adding that cases can last for months or even years.
Teens struggle with mental health and school
Alsaleh’s teenage sister, Lana, is friends with two other teenagers facing deportation: Samina and Sadin Aboizneid.
Originally from the Palestinian territories, the family of six emigrated first to Chile and then to Canada, where the youngest son was born. The family was deported to Chile and later returned to Hamilton in 2019.
In January, a CBC Hamilton reporter visited the Aboizneids and spoke with the three eldest children, who shared their concerns for their family and how the removal process has impacted their mental health.
Samira, 15, said that after the first deportation, “my mental health was completely ruined… This sent me into a depressive episode.”
He worries that his younger siblings are experiencing the same problems.
His older brother, Tariq, who is 18 but is considered a child on the family’s CBSA applications, told CBC Hamilton in January that the family’s previous deportation and second removal order made it difficult for him to focus on life. school.
“I was doing well in school,” he said, adding that he was getting 90s in his academic courses.
“But then they sent us back and that ruined me. It really got me down. I felt betrayed.”
McLennan said this is a common problem among children and teens facing family deportation.
“Going into a new situation with unknown housing, education, and safety issues elsewhere, tearing apart your social network, when your family, school, or community you’re tied to are being wiped out at the same time, this composite level of stress is worrisome indeed.”
‘Threat hanging over your head’
McLennan said the chronic stress of family separation can greatly affect a child’s mental health.
The youngest son of the Aboizneid family, Wael, was born in Canada and has Canadian citizenship.
“[The CBSA] He said to put him up for adoption,” his father told CBC Hamilton in January, adding that the family has considered placing the boy with other family members living in Canada.
McLennan said the impact on children’s mental health can begin even before the removal order is enforced.
“The unknown of what’s going to happen, the risk of being separated day after day, have a bigger impact. You might say, ‘Well, we haven’t even separated them yet,’ it’s that threat hanging over your head.”
“There is not a good option for families in that situation,” he said.
The CBSA told CBC Hamilton in an email that it “always considers the best interests of the child” when conducting family transfers, but McLennan said CACAP’s position is that response is not enough.
“[The CBSA says], ‘we are not separating families. We are saying that parents have to go back because of their illegal or irregular entry, and they are free to take their children with them,'” McLennan said.
“What we’ve wrestled with is how they decided this was somehow in the best interest of the child. We never got a satisfactory answer.”