Jesika Bowers is a happy little girl with a wicked sense of humour.
The nine-year-old loves attending her school at Mount Barker in South Australia, playing with her big brother Aiden and visiting the zoo.
Although her mother Jennifer Jungfer is Canadian, the two children have been living in Australia for almost seven years, and Jesika’s stepfather Bart is an Aussie.
But despite all this, Jesika has just been told she has to leave Australia within four weeks – or she’ll face deportation.
According to her mother, that decision is all because the little girl lives with Angelmans Syndrome – a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by intellectual and developmental disability, sleep disturbance, seizures and frequent smiling.
And apparently, the Immigration Department thinks the little year four student “would be a burden to the Australian taxpayer” if she stayed.
Jennifer received notification last week to say they have 28 days to leave the country or risk deportation, a GoFundMe campaign set up by the family explains.
The decision comes after Jesika’s application for permanent residency was denied because, in the words of the rejection letter, she “has Angelman Syndrome and is likely to require special education services, State disability services and Commonwealth disability services”.
The family has attempted to appeal but failed – leaving Jesika and her family just weeks to file an appeal with the immigration tribunal and then appeal to the Minister of Immigration to overturn the decision.
Ms Jungfer told Mamamia she was stunned at the Immigration Department’s decision.
“We just want to stay where our home is. Bart and I both work very hard, paying taxes, to support our country and its residents as well as our own family of course,” she said. “To think that makes us a burden is just so hard to fathom.”
The family believes it’s a case of disability discrimination.
“It is totally wrong and discrimination against a little girl with a disability and her lovely, hard-working family,” family friend Julie Oliver told Mamamia.
“Deporting a family who have been living together in Australia for almost seven years is wrong on so many levels.”
A Go Fund Me page has just been set up to try to raise funds to pay for lawyer to lodge an appeal.
It’s already raised $2000 of its $8000 goal, and the family hopes an appeal will buy some time to fight against this unjust decision – since, as Oliver puts it: “Time is running out.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection told Mamamia: “Situations of a compassionate nature are always carefully considered.
“Clients who have a visa application refused are sent a detailed letter that outlines the reasons for the refusal, their review rights and information on their immigration status. If people comply with their visa conditions and lodge a review within the required timeframes they will remain lawfully in the community while that process is undertaken.”
This is not the first time a child with a disability has been threatened with deportation due to disability.
Last year, Mamamia reported on the case of Tyrone Sevilla, who has autism. He and his mum were threatened with deportation back to The Philippines because the government believed treatment for Tyrone’s autism would be a burden on the Australian taxpayer. However, the pair were eventually allowed to stay, after more than 120,000 Australians rallied behind them.
Ultimately, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was served a 4,000-page petition asking the minister to allow the boy with autism to stay in the country and the case received widespread attention, even being discussed on ABC programme Q&A.
Last year, Mamamia also covered a six-month battle by Bangladeshi man Enamul Kabir and his family to gain permanent residency in Australia. The family’s original application for a Skilled Residence Visa was rejected because their eight-year-old son, Srijon, has mild autism.
The family lodged an appeal with the Immigration Minister last November — and after 70,000 people signed apetition, the Kabirs finally received confirmation of their permanent residency.
Now, Jesika’s family are hoping they might see the same happy outcome.
You can support Jesika’s GoFundMe page here.