Alvaro Orozco smiles from behind the glass barrier as he picks up the phone to start our interview at the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre. He hits his hand against his forehead and sighs when asked if he remembers the names of the officers who arrested him on May 13.
“No,” he says. “I should have.”
Reliving his arrest makes Orozco visibly anxious.
“I was at Ossington Station,” he recalls. “I was on my way to dinner with a friend. I was on my way to the bus. Just a few steps into the bus he approached me… They asked me for my ID, I showed them my ID, they said you’re under arrest.
“I said, ‘You guys are the police, not immigration.’ They were not respectful at all. They put the handcuffs on me super tight; I felt like they were going to cut me or something.”
Orozco says that once he was in custody one of the officers who arrested him appeared to call immigration officials on a cellphone.
“They were saying, ‘We have this guy. Is this the guy you want?’”
Orozco says that he was taken to a police station and that immigration enforcement officers arrived there within 15 minutes. He was then taken to the Immigration Holding Centre on Rexdale Blvd.
He had a detention review hearing the following morning with a judge, but his new lawyer, Richard Wazana, was unable to attend. Wazana tells Xtra that preparing a request to defer Orozco’s deportation was his biggest priority at that time.
“I was hoping somebody might be able to attend,” Wazana says. “In the end, they couldn’t, but the likelihood of him being released [on bail] when arrangements for removal are being made are next to nil.”
“I was there with four people, including the judge,” says Orozco. “I was so attacked by them with all their questions and all their statements about me. I told the judge that even with all the experiences I’ve had with appeals, I’ve been active in the community and doing my own art exhibitions with paintings and photography. And at the same time I’ve been doing volunteer work.”
Orozco, now 25, fled Nicaragua to the United States when he was 12 after, he says, his father beat him for being gay. He lived illegally in the US until 2005 and then came to Toronto. At his initial Canadian refugee hearing in October of 2006, Immigration and Refugee Board member Deborah Lamont told him via teleconference from Calgary that she didn’t believe that he was gay.
Orozco has been living in Toronto under a deportation order since October of 2007.
“The reason I didn’t show up to some of the deportation dates is because at that time I was under medication for anxiety,” he says. “Mentally I was not in the position to make those decisions.”
Orozco doesn’t want to say what country he might be deported to because, he says, he’s concerned for his safety.
“My lawyer is going to file a request to [defer] the deportation until the H & C [humanitarian and compassionate grounds application] is reviewed.”
If immigration denies this request, Orozco says his lawyer is prepared to make an appeal in court.
Wazana says he filed the request to defer Orozco’s removal until his H & C application is concluded. He says he thinks Orozco has a good chance of being allowed to stay until the hearing. The Department of Immigration is often “amenable to defer a removal when the application has been outstanding for quite some time,” he says. “The only reason I’m not that confident… is because most of that time he was underground.”
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has the authority to intervene; he could release Orozco and grant him residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Kenney’s office did not respond to Xtra’s call before post time, but readers may contact him themselves here. Readers are also urged to join the Let Alvaro Stay Facebook page here.
Even as he speaks of his potential deportation, Orozco says he has some things to be grateful for.
“I mean something to the community and to the country,” he says. “But the most amazing thing is that in this situation, different groups come together as one. That’s something that is very touching. It makes me have new hope.”