US Army Deserter Forced to Leave Canada

Kimberly Rivera

TORONTO -- A U.S. soldier who fled to Canada to avoid the war in Iraq has been arrested and detained at the U.S. border after losing her deportation case.

Kimberly Rivera, who lived in Canada for five years with her husband and four children, was issued a deportation order last month and given until Sept. 20 to leave the country.

The War Resisters Support Campaign said in a statement Thursday that Rivera presented herself at the U.S. border on Thursday and was arrested and transferred to military custody. They said her family crossed separately so her kids wouldn't see her arrested.

Rivera, a 30-year-old Army private, served in Iraq in 2006. She said she became disillusioned with the mission. She crossed the border into Canada while on leave in February 2007, after she was ordered to serve another tour there. After arriving in Canada on leave, she applied for refugee status.

Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's spokeswoman, Alexis Pavlich, said Thursday they don't believe that President Obama's administration will subject American soldiers to persecution.

"Military deserters from the United States are not genuine refugees under the internationally accepted meaning of the term. These unfounded claims clog up our system for genuine refugees who are actually fleeing persecution," Pavlich said.

Alyssa Manning, Rivera's lawyer, has said Rivera could face a jail sentence of between two to five years.

Ken Marciniec, a spokesman for the War Resisters Support Campaign, said Canadians were told by Kenny's representatives in court that she wouldn't be arrested at the border.

"It doesn't get any clearer than this. The risk that we've pointed out, of Iraq War resisters being punished as prisoners of conscience isn't just risk, it's fact," Marciniec said.

Rivera had applied for permanent residency in Canada based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, which she hoped would take into account the fact that she has four children, ages 10, 8, 3, and 18 months, the youngest of which were born in Canada. She did not receive a decision on that application, which was submitted three years ago.

In January 2009, Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board ordered her and her family to leave the country or face deportation. Rivera appealed that decision and lost.

Rivera told reporters last month that her biggest fear about being deported was being separated from her young children and having to sit in a prison for politically being against the Iraqi conflict.

Roughly 19,000 people signed an online petition protesting her deportation order and rallies were held in a number of Canadian cities Wednesday calling on the government to let Rivera stay in the country.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the American veterans organization Veterans for Peace have also spoken out against the deportation.

The War Resisters Support Campaign, which notes that there are approximately 200 Iraq war resisters in Canada, said two other Iraq war resisters who were deported, Robin Long and Clifford Cornell, faced year-long jail sentences upon their return.

Long was given a dishonorable discharge in 2008 and sentenced to 15 months in a military prison after pleading guilty to charges of desertion.

The lower house of Canada's Parliament passed a nonbinding motion in 2009 urging that U.S. military deserters be allowed to stay in Canada, but the Conservative government ignored the vote.

During the Vietnam War, up to 90,000 Americans won refuge in Canada, most of them to avoid the military draft. Many were given permanent residence status that led to Canadian citizenship, but the majority went home after President Jimmy Carter granted amnesty in the late 1970s.

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