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Good enough for a federal scholarship ...

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TORONTO — The Globe and Mail
Published on Wednesday, Mar. 26, 2008
If it all goes according to plan, Sarah Leonty will parlay her academic acumen into a career with Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs.

But first, the 20-year-old Toronto woman will have to stop the country she wants to serve from kicking her out.

Ms. Leonty, who came to Canada from St. Lucia when she was 11, recently learned she is facing deportation to the Caribbean island because she lacks immigration status, though she had no say in her parents' decision to bring her here.

Now, she is mounting a fight to stay, so that she can finish university and put her impressive Canadian scholastic record – which includes a federally funded scholarship and a stint as prime minister of her high school's student council – to work for her adopted country.

“I want to be a foreign minister in the government, surprisingly,” Ms. Leonty said yesterday after students rallied to her cause at York University, where she finished her first year of international development studies last year. “But mostly, I want to go into politics.”

Whether she gets there will depend largely on the mercy of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, to whom Ms. Leonty has applied for residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. She hopes her application will be accepted before officials take another run at deporting her, which they have done twice since last fall.

Ms. Leonty arrived at her predicament by a convoluted process, but one familiar to many of the estimated 200,000 undocumented foreign workers who toil under the table in Canada. Her parents, who fit that category, left her behind with relatives in St. Lucia, then sent for her in 1998. Her parents then separated.

While her mother earned what she could caring for a Canadian family's children, young Sarah excelled at her studies and made time for volunteer work, since she could not work legally.

“I have been a tutor for a number of years, then prime minister – or as some call it, president – of my student council,” she said, referring to her days at Archbishop Romero Catholic Secondary School. “I volunteered at a local women's shelter and at a food bank.”

Ms. Leonty earned a Herb Carnegie scholarship for community leadership, which helps youth attend university or college, a Lieutenant-Governor's Award, and music and merit awards from Toronto's Catholic School Board.

Immigration officials rejected her mother's applications to stay on compassionate grounds and deported her in 2001, while Sarah stayed behind. Her mother returned in 2004 and applied again, but faces a second deportation Friday.

In 2005, Ms. Leonty's father applied for residency for himself and his daughter, an application supported by his new Canadian wife. But Ms. Leonty was removed from the application without her knowledge last year, said Amina Sherazee, the young woman's immigration lawyer.

Ms. Leonty learned this bit of news only after she was summoned to a meeting with Immigration Department officials last September, where she was told she would be deported two weeks later.

Her lawyer helped to get the deportation order stayed then, and again last week, in hopes Immigration Minister Diane Finley will review the case and grant mercy.

Ms. Leonty, meanwhile, could not afford to return to her studies last fall, because, as a non-resident, she had to pay international student tuition fees, about triple those paid by domestic students.

Instead, she has kept busy working part time and volunteering. She also applied, was shortlisted and ultimately accepted to a paid work program called Youth in Motion – Opportunities Unlimited.

“It says right here, ‘Funded by the Government of Canada,' ” Ms. Leonty said, showing a copy of her acceptance letter to the program. “So, that's ironic.”

Ms. Sherazee hopes that is not lost on Ms. Finley, who has the discretion to cut through a backlog of applications and spare Ms. Leonty from expulsion.

“I think her case really epitomizes how things can go very wrong,” the lawyer said. “I'm sure no Canadian would want to lose someone like her, who has so much potential [for] leadership and definitely has a lot of qualities we look for in immigrants.”