A Mexican teen deported from Canada touched down in Toronto on a flight from El Salvador late Wednesday night, capping a dramatic four-country escape.
In the process, Josette Rosenzweig Issasi, 14, outwitted the combined smarts of Mexican and Canadian officials, who seemed bent on keeping her in Mexico.
“If Canada’s immigration authorities had known about it, Josette would not be on that plane,” said Toronto lawyer Jeffery Wilson, who played a key role in organizing the girl’s secret and roundabout flight from Mexico.
He recited a litany of obstacles the Canadian government had thrown in the way of Josette’s return, following a decision last month by the Ontario Court of Appeal, which ruled the girl must be returned to Canada for a hearing on her future. The Ontario court has no jurisdiction in Mexico, however, and could not enforce its ruling there.
“I was very nervous during the trip,” the girl said shortly after her arrival. “Now I am very emotional, very happy.” She said she looked forward to seeing her Canadian friends.
“Of course. Just imagine!” On Wednesday, the girl’s mother sent an impassioned email message to the Star, pleading with a reporter to intervene and stop the girl from fleeing Mexico.
“It doesn’t need to be this way,” Marlen Issasi Rodriguez wrote. “Please, speak to my daughter, and may she come back to her senses. I don’t want to lose her. Please, help But it was already too late.
Convinced that Canadian authorities would do little or nothing to assist her return, and terrified lest she be discovered by Mexican police, Josette had already gone.
At the time of her deportation last fall, Josette was a convention refugee in Canada, a status she’d been granted in May 2010, following allegations of long-standing physical abuse by her mother in Mexico.
But a Canadian court decided to send her back, and last October Canadian officials plucked the sobbing girl from chemistry class at Toronto’s Central Technical School and bundled her onto a Mexico-bound plane.
A month ago, the distraught young teen fled her mother’s home in Cancun and went into hiding somewhere in Mexico, briefly emerging two weeks ago for a 90-minute interview with the Toronto Star.
She said she was determined to return to Canada. But she faced many obstacles. In the first place, Canadian immigration authorities had seized her Mexican passport.
Worse, as a juvenile runaway, she was being sought by Mexican police as well as by her mother, who told the Star last week she had no intention of allowing Josette to leave Mexico.
“Apparently, she’s been put on a no-fly list,” Wilson said. “The kid was getting crazy in hiding. I was concerned that her fear level was getting crazy.”
So a plan was hatched for her escape, and it involved a route almost no one would have predicted.
Wilson and others involved in the case had originally thought of spiriting Josette to the Canadian embassy in Mexico City and claiming sanctuary for her there.
But Ottawa made it clear Canadian diplomats would never let her inside the door. After all, the girl is not a Canadian citizen.
So, instead, Josette Rosenzweig Espinal — the girl’s paternal aunt, who had previously cared for her in Toronto — got on a plane and flew to Mexico.
She and her niece lit out for southern Mexico, where they managed to cross the overland border into Guatemala.
From there, they travelled to the Guatemalan capital and hid out there till early this week, when Canadian authorities finally produced Josette’s travel documents — her passport on Monday, and a single-use visa on Tuesday — two weeks after the appeal court required them to do so.
On Tuesday and with Josette’s papers in hand, Madeleine Oquendo — Rosenzweig’s spouse — flew to Guatemala City and delivered the documents to the girl and her aunt.
The plan then was for the pair to travel to neighbouring El Salvador.
LACSA, the Central American airline, operates a non-stop flight from San Salvador to Toronto, thereby meeting a no-connections restriction that Ottawa had imposed on Josette’s single-use visa.
But there was more trouble.
Border officials at the airport in Guatemala City refused to allow Josette onto the San Salvador-bound plane, insisting they needed the say-so of the Canadian embassy in Guatemala.
In the end, Canadian diplomats authorized Josette to get on the plane.
On Wednesday afternoon, Josette and her aunt began the final leg of their serpentine and secretive journey back to Canada, finally touching down at Pearson International Airport shortly before 11 p.m.
At 2 p.m. on Thursday, Josette is to begin the next chapter of her battle to make Canada her permanent home, when she makes a surprise appearance at a hearing on her future, in a courtroom on Sheppard Ave. E.