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The Shrinking Borders Around Citizenship

Haligonians rally to keep Deepan Budlakoti home

by Hillary Bain Lindsay

The Canadian government asserts that Deepan is not a citizen, but allies in Halifax say Canada is his home and are demanding that he stay.
The Canadian government asserts that Deepan is not a citizen, but allies in Halifax say Canada is his home and are demanding that he stay.

K'JIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) –Deepan Budlakoti was born in Ottawa in 1989 and has lived in Canada his entire life. He had no reason to believe he was not a citizen until 2010 when he was told he was not.

Now, the Canadian government wants to deport him. 

“How do we keep you home, Deepan?” asked one of a few dozen supporters crowded into a living room on Compton Street last night.

The answer is proving to be far more difficult than Budlakoti ever imagined.   

In 2010, after getting in trouble with the law, twenty-year-old Budlakoti was informed by government officials that his passport had been issued to him in error, that he was not a Canadian citizen and that he was not longer wanted in Canada. 

Budlakoti was shocked.  “I'm born in Canada, when I was a child, I sang Oh Canada every morning at school, but now the country that I was born in is trying to deport me.”

Budlakoti’s case is an unique version of what is known as “double punishment,” when non-citizens are punished twice for their crimes, first by the criminal justice system and then through deportation or the threat of deportation. Non-citizens include people who have had permanent residency since childhood, who may have little to no connection to their country of origin.

Budlakoti’s case is more extreme as he was born in Canada.  He and his parents (who were born in India) had no reason to believe he was not a citizen – he had been issued a Canadian passport, had a Canadian birth certificate, etc.   

Government officials assert, however, that a foreign diplomat employed his parents when he was born – something Budlakoti says is not true - which under Canadian law means that he is not automatically Canadian.

The case is a complicated one - Budlakoti says he’s been forced to learn a lot about Canadian and international law in the past few years - but he also asserts that the origins of this story are quite simple: the colour of his skin. 

If he looked white, Budlakoti thinks his right to be in Canada - to be Canadian - would have never been questioned.

“If I was a European that looks white, would that [prison] guard have asked me if I was a citizen or not?” he asks. 

The case also brings up the question of who gets to live in Canada, who “deserves” to be here.

“This convicted criminal has never been a Canadian citizen. He should not have chosen a life of crime if he did not want to be deported from Canada,” Alexis Pavlich, press secretary to Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, told the Chronicle Herald. 

But there’s much more to Budlakoti than the mistakes he may have made as a young man, says Tamar Dina, who helped organize the solidarity event last night.

“I think Deepan's dignity and his pursuit [of justice] demonstrates his character far more than his criminal record does,” she says. Dina expressed gratitude to Budlakoti for fighting back, and added that it’s a responsibility we all share.  She saw the gathering in her living room as a good start. 

“Collecting people around us to talk and discuss our current political climate and what we can do to change it, it is the basics to exercising our civil rights,” says Dina.  “We're bombarded and we're constantly given the message that [our voices] don't matter.  People need to think about why they believe that.  I see that people who believe their actions don't matter don't act, and people who believe their actions matter act.” 

“It's not assumed that people will fight back,” says Dina. “Deepan’s taking on a fight and lots of us are going to benefit from it….his fight makes sure that Canada doesn't get to flat-out get away with bigotry.”

These days, Budlakoti is living in bureaucratic limbo.  He is a citizen of nowhere.  He does not have health coverage.  He has to apply for a work permit every year.  If he wants to go to school, he hast to apply for a study visa and pay international fees.  He continues to face the threat of deportation to India, the country his parents were born but where he has never lived.

He has filed an application to the Federal Court under the Charter requesting that the Federal Court declare him to be a citizen.  Budlakoti is on a speaking tour to bring awareness to his case and to ask for support.  He’s hoping to organize a national day of action with banner drops from coast to coast, something that supporters in Halifax are keen to participate in.   

Budlakoti says his hope is to get his citizenship back. 

After that, he says his migrant justice activism won’t stop.  “I'm definitely going to keep on being an activist and helping other people fight their case and show support, cause once you're in this situation, you’re a activist for life.” 

For more information on Deepan Budlakoti's campaign see www.justicefordeepan.org/

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