When Kimberley Rivera shipped out to serve in Iraq with the U.S. Army in the fall of 2006, she saw herself rebuilding homes, feeding the hungry and helping children.
Barely three months into her 15-month mission, Rivera, a gate guard in Baghdad, had had enough.
A young mother herself, she says she was haunted by the sight of children crying, forever traumatized by the war.
While on leave for two weeks, Rivera says, she decided she couldn't go back to war.
In January 2007, she packed up her family from Fort Carson, Colo., and drove to Canada, hoping to obtain refugee status on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
Rivera, the first female U.S. Iraq war resister to seek refuge in Canada, was told by the Immigration and Refugee Board yesterday morning that she and her family must leave the country by Jan. 27 or face deportation.
The decision will force Rivera, 26, to uproot her family – her husband, Mario, and their three children, including 6-week-old daughter Katie – from their Parkdale home in Toronto. In the United States, she faces the prospect of jail for deserting the army.
"It's really overwhelming," she said at a news conference yesterday afternoon, cradling a sleeping Katie in her arms.
"It'll be heart-breaking," added her husband, noting that their two older children go to school in Toronto.
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The couple both worked full-time – she in a bakery, he in various labour jobs – until Katie was born. Rivera is taking time off work to care for the baby.
The family plans to consult a lawyer in case they can appeal the decision, she said.
Rivera stressed she doesn't regret her decision to leave the army, even if it leads to deportation and a criminal record in the United States.
"I came here in my belief, I'll leave here in it as well."
Another four U.S. Iraq war resisters and their families are facing deportation this month alone, said Michelle Robidoux of the War Resisters Support Campaign.
Approximately 200 American war resisters are believed to be living in Canada.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney yesterday blamed U.S. "deserters" for the backlog in refugee applications, and denied the legitimacy of their claims.
"We're not talking about draft dodgers, we're not talking about resisters," he told Global Television. "We're talking about people who volunteer to serve in the armed forces of a democratic country and simply change their mind to desert and that's fine, that's the decision they have made, but they are not refugees."
Robidoux says the government is ignoring a motion passed by all three opposition parties in the House of Commons last June, urging the government to allow U.S. military deserters and their families to remain in Canada as permanent residents instead of deporting them to face possible jail time.