OTTAWA — Thirteen-year-old Dio Gama will get to play baseball in the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania after all.
Gama's team, the Whalley Major Allstars from Surrey, B.C., had thought they would be without the young outfielder after a federal judge ordered a review of the family’s immigration case last month.
There were fears Gama would be blocked from re-entering Canada if he travelled to the U.S. for the tournament without status in Canada.
But the federal Immigration Department will issue Gama a temporary resident permit in order to allow him to accompany his team to the Little League World Series, The Canadian Press has learned.
The temporary permit is the result of an intervention by Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. A senior Immigration official says the $200 application fee for the permit will also be waived.
Whalley Little League president Gavin Burke said Wednesday night that when he told Dio's father, Noe, the news on the phone he said his son was "over the moon."
"His dad described that he was in the background when we told him, and he was just screaming with joy," said Burke.
Burke said he and his wife are going to take a red-eye flight to Toronto on Thursday night and then will drive down to Williamsport, Penn. He said they should be there by midday Friday, in time for the Canadian team's first game against Panama at 6 p.m.
Burke added that Dio's return is "big" for the club.
"I think all along Dio was a leader on the team and I think they missed him," he said.
"They missed his leadership and just having a fun, relaxed atmosphere around training. I mean, the kids have been together since June, so to lose a teammate with kids — they probably don't understand — it's just, he couldn't play. So to get him back down there with his teammates is huge for team Canada."
Whalley Major Allstars head coach Mike Marino echoed Burke's sentiments earlier Wednesday, saying Gama was instrumental in his club making it to the Little League World Series and calling him one of the team's strongest batters and a role model for his teammates.
"As a player, we think he'll probably be one of the best hitters at the tournament," he said. "He's a great kid, he's a kind kid. All the boys on the team look up to him."
Gama was born in the U.S. to Mexican parents and has lived in Canada for three years. But the family’s immigration case is complicated in part by a drug-related charge and guilty plea by his father that led to his deportation from the U.S. in 1997 and a 60-month prison term in Mexico.
On Tuesday, an official in Hussen's office refused to comment on any specific immigration cases within the department, but did say that the office was aware of Gama's situation and that it was under review.
Immigration officials worked through local Liberal MP Ken Hardie's office to ensure Gama would have the paperwork he needed to play in the tournament.
He will be issued a temporary resident permit that will be valid until the end of the month.
Canada begins play at the Little League World Series against Panama on Friday. The event starts on Thursday.
— With files from Melissa Couto and Mike Shulman in Toronto; follow @ReporterTeresa on Twitter.
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press