Canada will be without one of its top players at the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania this week as Dio Gama and his family await a review of their immigration status.
The Whalley Major Allstars, based in Surrey, B.C., will be without the 13-year-old outfielder after a federal judge ordered a review of the family's case last month.
Gama, born in the United States to Mexican parents, has lived in Canada for three years. But the family's case is complicated in part by a drug-related charge and guilty plea by Dio's father, Noe, that led to his deportation from the U.S. in 1997 and a 60-month prison term in Mexico.
"I think the issue is that his lawyers are advising that there's a chance that they wouldn't let Dio back into Canada (if he goes into the U.S.)," Whalley Little League president Gavin Burke told The Canadian Press in a phone interview from B.C. on Tuesday.
"So that's the issue. We're not positive that Dio has the papers to get back into Canada."
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen's spokesman Mathieu Genest said in a statement to The Canadian Press Tuesday that while he could not comment on any specific cases within his department, the minister's office is "aware of the situation and it is currently under review."
"Our government understands that decisions related to immigration can have a profound impact on individuals' lives. Our government is committed to ensuring that every situation is assessed based on its merits, in a fair manner and in accordance with Canada's laws," Genest added.
The Whalley Allstars tore through the competition at the national championship last week in Mirabel, Que., going 6-0 through the round-robin stage before downing Ontario 8-2 in a semifinal and Nova Scotia 11-0 in the title game on Saturday.
Gama was instrumental in the final — which was over after four innings because of the mercy rule — going 2-for-3 with four RBIs and two runs scored to help give Whalley its sixth national title in program history and first trip to the Little League World Series since 2006.
"I think they're very disappointed and they miss the boy," Burke said of the team's reaction when Gama told them he wasn't able to travel with them to Williamsport. "I think they'd love to see Dio back with them.
"He's part of the team. The kids have been together since the beginning of June ... I would expect that there's a void."
Burke added that he hadn't spoken with Gama directly but he had talked to his father after the two flew back to Vancouver from Quebec.
"From what he says, he'd love to get back to the team if there was a way but he understands that his family wouldn't permit him to leave the country if there's a possibility he can't come back." Burke said.
Canada begins play at the Little League World Series against Panama on Friday. The event starts on Thursday.
Teams from B.C. have won 13 of the last 14 national Little League titles and 26 overall since the national tournament started in 1958. Whalley is tied for second most championships (six) with Trail, B.C., and Glace Bay, N.S.
A Canadian team never has won the Little League World Series.
— With files from Teresa Wright in Ottawa.
Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press