These teenagers, two University of Regina students, from Nigeria have been hiding in a church for months to avoid deportation for unwittingly working at Walmart without the proper permits.
Ihuoma Amadi, 21, and Victoria Ordu, 20, have attended the school for three years on a scholarship. Last year, the pair worked at the store for two weeks, but according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, international students can't be employed off campus without a work permit.
"It was an honest mistake. They want a second chance. There are better measures that could have been used rather than the ultimate punishment, which is deportation," said Kay Adebogun, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Immigration Consultants, who is representing them pro bono.
The students said they quit immediately when university staff told them the rules. Later, Canadian Border Services Agency officers arrested them and they were scheduled to be deported June 19.
It is unclear how the women ended up getting hired without the appropriate work permits.
Walmart said it is investigating the matter and declined to go into detail.
"We have a process in place to ensure associates have appropriate documentation to work in Canada," the statement said.
Desperate, the women said they sought sanctuary at an undisclosed church in Regina nearly three months ago in hopes immigration officials will show "mercy" for them.
"At times, we stay for days without eating because we don't go outside," Amadi said Thursday at the church where they sleep on the floor.
Amadi and Ordu have both written to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to ask for a pardon, and they are trying to get temporary residence permits.
"We acknowledge everything happened out of ignorance. If we had known, why would we take that risk when our education is much more important?" Ordu said.
The University of Regina is supportive of the women's plight and wants them to return to classes to get their degrees in theatre and international studies.
Barbara Pollock, a spokeswoman at the university, said the school sent a letter to the minister to ask him to reconsider the deportation on humanitarian grounds.
"We feel that the punishment is disproportionate to the wrongdoing," Pollock said.
Remi Lariviere, spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, said in an email Thursday that Kenney doesn't have the authority to reverse deportation orders under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Lariviere declined to answer further questions for privacy reasons.
For now, all the students can do is wait.
"It's given the wrong impression of Canada," Ordu said.