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José Figueroa finally goes home

There were tears of joy and laughter as José Figueroa ended more than two years of sanctuary and took his first step outside the Walnut Grove Lutheran Church on Dec. 23 with his wife Ivania, son Jose Ivan and daughters Esemerelda and Ruby at his side and about 100 supporters present.   - Dan Ferguson/Langley Times
There were tears of joy and laughter as José Figueroa ended more than two years of sanctuary and took his first step outside the Walnut Grove Lutheran Church on Dec. 23 with his wife Ivania, son Jose Ivan and daughters Esemerelda and Ruby at his side and about 100 supporters present.
— image credit: Dan Ferguson/Langley Times

It took a joyous José Figueroa two days to get home after leaving the Langley Walnut Grove Lutheran church.

The Langley resident ended more than two years of sanctuary on Dec. 23, his birthday, when he made a tearful departure witnessed by about 100 supporters.

With his family at his side, Figueroa took a hesitant step past the front door, then stopped, overcome by emotion.

Then, Figueroa crossed the threshold leaning on his wife Ivania, with his son José Ivan supporting him from behind and daughters Esmerelda and Ruby on each side.

A tearful Figueroa raised his arms in triumph and shouted "I am free."

The crowd sang "happy birthday" and the tears quickly turned to laughter.

John McCallum, the new federal immigration minister, had overturned a decision that declared Figueroa inadmissible to Canada based on his connection to a group that opposed a repressive dictatorship in his native El Salvador.

Right after his exit, Figueroa went to Vancouver to see Rodney Watson, an American soldier who has lived in sanctuary at the Downtown Eastside’s First United Church since 2009.

It was an attempt to "deliver some hope," Figueroa said.

The meeting ran late, and the family decided to spend one last night in the Langley church before going home to get ready for a Christmas Eve stay with his sister.

But the next day, the Figueroa family was intercepted by supportive neighbours and well-wishers and again ran out of time.

"I didn't even get to see the door," he laughed.

Figueroa entered his home on Christmas Day.

"It was a bit like when we first came to Canada," he said.

Next up, he intends to re-apply for a work permit, and re-take his drivers' test (his licence expired while he was in sanctuary).

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