Polygamous mother battles Canada deportation, possible loss of her kids

Salt Lake Tribune/November 26, 2005

Ten years after moving to Canada as a plural wife, Edith Barlow now faces giving up her adopted country, her community and her family - and the possibility that she and her five children may never be able to return.

Barlow, who grew up in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., learned two weeks ago her application seeking permanent residency in Canada had been rejected. She was told to leave the country immediately or risk deportation.

"I can go and leave my kids here or take them with me and take them from their home, their life, their stability and their country," she said in a telephone interview.

Either choice is untenable, said Barlow, 28, who moved to Bountiful, a polygamous community in British Columbia, as a plural wife of Winston Blackmore in 1995.

And now other plural wives living in Bountiful, once associated with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, fear they may be forced to leave, too.

"We've all been living under the fear that one day we would not be allowed back in," said Ruth Lane, 31, a sister wife to Barlow and mother of six who has been in Canada 11 years. She is currently seeking a work permit.

"At some point you've got to get some kind of status," Lane said.

But Barlow, Lane and others are finding that may be more difficult than they imagined, in part because of their polygamous lifestyle. The women cannot apply to immigrate under the family category as legal or common-law spouses. They don't, for the most part, qualify as skilled workers; they are not refugees, either. So they are left to make the case as individuals, proving, among other things, they won't be a financial burden on Canada.

Another complication: Unlike the U.S., Canada requires applicants to apply for residency from outside the country. It can take nearly a year or longer to receive a decision.

Applicants already in Canada can seek an exception to that rule on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, but must prove they would suffer excessive hardship if they had to return home first.

Barlow, then in the country on a visitor's visa, made that argument in the application she filed in 2003.

She came to Bountiful, British Columbia, a decade ago on a visitor's visa. At the time, Blackmore was a prominent leader in the Canadian branch of the FLDS church.

The couple now have five children, all born in Canada and ranging in age from 7 years to 10 months.

Blackmore was exiled from the FLDS church in 2002 by then prophet Rulon Jeffs, a move many believe was orchestrated by his son and current church leader Warren Jeffs. The act created a rift in formerly close-knit families on both sides of the border as they subsequently chose to side with one man or the other.

Rulon Jeffs also ordered Blackmore's wives to leave him. "We were told that we were relieved from Winston and should go home and let the prophet reassign us," Barlow said.

She refused, a decision that curtailed contact with her family in the Arizona Strip who remain loyal to Jeffs. (Her father is Alvin Barlow, superintendent of the beleaguered Colorado City Unified School District.)

It was on the heels of "The Big Split," as some call it, that Barlow sought to become a permanent resident of Canada.

In her application, Barlow openly described her relationship with Blackmore, their children and the family's deep ties in Bountiful, British Columbia. She even sent pictures.

And she laid out the rift in the FLDS community and her own family, which she said made it impossible for her to return home.

"I don't believe one bit the way they do," she said.

In an immigration interview in January, Barlow said she was reassured that the children's best interests would be a primary consideration in processing her application.

But Canadian officials decided in February she didn't qualify for the humanitarian exception, meaning she will have to seek residency from outside Canada.

Even then there is no guarantee it would be granted.

Barlow said she has nowhere to go, and that leaving would sever all of the emotional and financial support she and her children now receive.

She has a high school diploma, but little else as far as job skills. She has sisters across the border in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, but they are in no position to support her, Barlow said.

"I could go out and get a job across the line, but what do I do with my children, without my support system?"

In June, Barlow filed a new petition for residency, again requesting the humanitarian exception; the application is still pending.

She also appealed to have her visitor's visa renewed. In November, Barlow learned that, too, had been turned down. Were she to leave the country, she would be unable to re-enter, even to attend Sunday church services in nearby Creston.

"She is requested to leave Canada immediately because she no longer has status in Canada," said Amandeep Sangha, a media spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

As for the children, their interests are one of many factors weighed in such decisions, Sangha said.

"We do look at that, but it isn't the only thing that we take into consideration," she said.

It's possible that if Barlow doesn't leave voluntarily, she could be picked up and deported.

So now, she and others in Bountiful, British Columbia, have launched a media campaign in hopes of swaying Canadian officials to reconsider.

"It is not the right thing to do to her and her children," Lane said.

"They are basically ripping five kids from the midst of their family and that would be emotional and very traumatic."

Adds Barlow: "Who knows if they will stop at me. They won't. There are so many more of us.

"I can't just leave the country and leave my children here," said Barlow, an option suggested to her by one official. "All I could picture is someone else putting them to bed for me, helping them with their homework. . . . When I think of family, this is what I think of, this is my family. These are the people I want to be with."

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