From his parents’ home in Mexico, Daniel Altamirano Fernandez speaks to his wife and three-year-old daughter in Brandon via Skype.
Haley waves at her dad as he tells her he loves her. Daniels wife, Paula, fights through tears and says, "I miss you."
This has been the family’s only way of communicating since Daniel, 27, was deported back to his home country six months ago.
"It’s definitely been quite a challenge," Daniel said in an interview with the Brandon Sun from Aguascalientes, Mexico. "I’ve already missed my daughter’s birthday, my wife’s birthday, they have missed my birthday, so it’s been tough."
The family is anxiously waiting to hear from Citizenship and Immigration Canada on Daniel’s two pending applications: spousal sponsorship and a request on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
"According to the lawyer, it could take between a year or two before we can even get a response," Daniel said. "So I’ve been trying to keep myself busy … I try to talk to my girls as much as I can. I found myself a job so I can start saving some money for whatever happens in the future ... Right now it’s just a waiting game."
The Fernandez’ story began in 2007, when Daniel came to Brandon on a one-year exchange program between the Mexican and Canadian governments.
"It was a program to go to a different country and explore different traditions and meet new people," he said.
Shortly after his arrival, Daniel met Paula at the restaurant they both worked at and a relationship soon developed.
"After we started getting serious, we realized that after a year he’d be sent back," said Paula Fernandez, 22. "We started thinking of how do we go about getting him to stay and finding the proper ways."
The couple said they started looking at options, but ran out of time. Daniel had to go back to Mexico in September 2008.
Daniel continued researching Canadian immigration and decided his best route was to apply for refugee status.
"The very first reason I took the trip to Canada … was to really get away from Mexico," he said. "It had an atmosphere of uncertainty, not being really safe, a lot of drug stuff going on, political matters … I really felt uncomfortable, not safe."
He said he was granted refugee applicant status, which stipulates you can stay in Canada until the government decides on your refugee case. He came back to Brandon in December 2008. That same month, Daniel and Paula got married.
"We talked about it and we decided whatever happens, we’d confront this together," Daniel said.
The couple continued on with their life, always with a hint of uncertainty while they waited to hear back from Canadian Immigration.
"It was hard to get used to the idea of not knowing, there was little information that they gave me, they gave me a whole bunch of forms and basically told me to wait," Daniel said.
The couple’s daughter, Haley, was born in September 2009.
"We just went about living our lives as normal as we could," Paula said.
It wasn’t until 2011 when the Fernandez family was contacted about Daniel’s refugee application. Ultimately it was rejected.
"They told me my case was not unique and I would just be fine if I go back to my country," he said. "We tried to talk about how I’m married, I have a daughter, I have a good job. I think I’ve proven myself to be a worthy citizen … they said … ‘you have to go back.’"
The couple had been in contact with a Winnipeg-based lawyer, Gary Stern, who has been giving them guidance on the matter. They were told they should have applied for spousal sponsorship years ago.
Daniel said they didn’t realize they could apply for sponsorship when he already had a refugee claim pending.
"We kind of put all of our eggs into one basket for the refugee claim," Paula said.
The couple worked steadily filling out forms, compiling phone records, marriage certificate, etc. in an effort to complete the spousal sponsorship application.
"In early 2012 … we thought we had everything ready to apply so we wouldn’t have to be separated," Daniel said. "That’s when they tell me, you are going to get kicked out of the country."
In a last-ditch effort, Daniel applied for residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
"According to Canadian law, every Canadian child has the right to be raised by their two parents," Daniel said.
Much to the family’s disappointment, Daniel was told he would have to wait outside Canada until the decision is made.
The government paid for his plane ticket and Daniel was back in his hometown in June.
The couple is still hopeful about the two applications they have submitted, however they haven’t heard anything in six months.
"We’re adults and we can take care of it and we deal with it the best we can," Daniel said. "But our daughter doesn’t understand it, she doesn’t understand why she has to see Daddy on the phone every day, why Daddy’s not back home yet."
Daniel said being away from his family has been "crushing of soul and spirit."
"We just want to be together," he said. "We don’t want to be rich, we don’t want to be famous, we just want to have our little family, and … go to a park every once in a while."
Daniel said he understands his family’s case is not unique, but wishes the government had ways to fast-track cases when the marriage is 100 per cent legitimate.
"We have proof that our marriage is real … we have a daughter together, we’ve been living together pretty much since 2008," he said. "The time frame that they give for this kind of case is absolutely ridiculous. They shouldn’t take this long for families to be reunited."
The Brandon Sun contacted the Fernandez’ lawyer, Gary Stern, who wouldn’t discuss details of Daniel’s case, but confirmed both applications are before the immigration board. He said cases like this may take a year before a decision is made.