British Columbia

Cross-border couple faces indefinite separation as travel restrictions extended

COVID-19 travel restrictions have kept a married couple apart since early March, with one living in B.C. and the other in Colorado. But B.C.'s provincial health officer has offered a glimmer of hope, suggesting there could be an exception to reunite families.

B.C.'s top doctor offers glimmer of hope for Canada-U.S. spouses, suggesting leeway for family reunification

Noelle Maestas and Glenn Letham have been married for three years. She lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. He lives in Victoria, B.C. COVID-19 travel restrictions have kept them apart since early March. (Glenn Letham)

Loved ones separated by the Canada-U.S. border are bracing for an even longer separation now that the ban on non-essential travel has been extended for at least another month. 

The agreement was set to expire May 21, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that he and U.S. President Donald Trump have decided to extend the ban until June 21.

That means discretionary travel between the two countries is not allowed, leaving the international border open to essential travel only. 

"Psychologically, just knowing there is essentially a wall between us — that's not comforting," said Glenn Letham, a Canadian who lives in Victoria, B.C.

His wife, Noelle Maestas, is American and lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. 

The pair met in 2010 while he was living in Colorado, and married in Victoria in September 2016 after a long-distance courtship. He's in the final stages of applying for a green card, which would let him live and work permanently in the U.S. and join Maestas in Colorado, but isn't sure when that might be approved. 

I get pretty emotional because I want it to end and this is just so indefinite, not having your partner to support you through a pandemic.- Noelle Maestas, American married to Canadian

In the meantime, the two had become used to travelling back and forth about once a month. The last time they saw each other in person was when Letham flew to Colorado on March 10, as the pandemic started closing in.

"It was a little unnerving," Letham said on Tuesday. "We did discuss not knowing when we'd see each other again; we were aware of that, but the full extent hadn't sunk in yet."

For Maestas, the uncertain timeline of when they can reunite is the hardest part.

Letham and Maestas married in Victoria in September 2016. He's in the final stages of getting his green card, and plans to move to Colorado permanently to be with his wife. (Glenn Letham)

"It's very isolating, more than I thought it would ever feel," she said. "I get pretty emotional because I want it to end and this is just so indefinite, not having your partner to support you through a pandemic."

They try to focus on the positive, she said, and communication has been made relatively easy through frequent FaceTime chats. 

"If there's an upside to this, we talk more and we share more ... but it's not at all the same as having your partner in the same house to be able to play games together or start a new project together or annoy one another — all the things that go along with that closeness."

The pair admit they had taken for granted the option of simply buying a plane ticket to go visit one another on a monthly basis.

"It's such a devastating change to not have that luxury anymore, and no way of knowing when I get to see him again.... In the 10 years we've been together, we never thought it would get to this," Maestas said.

Family reunification a priority

B.C.'s provincial health officer has offered a glimmer of hope to people in these types of situations.

Last week, she was adamant about keeping the border closed to tourists for health and safety reasons, but she did suggest there could be room for exceptions for loved ones living across borders.

"We need to look at family reunification," Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters May 11. 

"I know it has been very hard on some families who have members on either side of the border ... but broad reopening of the border is not in our best interest in the coming weeks."

Before COVID-19 hit, Letham and Maestas would travel between B.C. and Colorado every month to see each other. Now, they rely on FaceTime to stay connected. (Glenn Letham)

For cross-border couples like Letham and Maestas, it leaves room for optimism.

"A month or two ago, there was no mention of families at all — now it's being discussed more and more, so that's reassuring," Letham said, adding he plans to eventually move to Colorado permanently.

But in the meantime, with the mandatory two-week quarantine on either side of a visit, he's hoping to get the all-clear to drive down to Colorado for an extended trip this summer.

"[Currently] if I was to travel there and have to shelter-in-place for two weeks, then visit, then come back and do the same thing — that's kind of daunting," he said.

"What I'm holding out for is some kind of phased-in approach where maybe they'll look at family members being allowed to cross."

Until that happens, they say they'll have to put their plans of a life together on hold. 

"We're trying to buy a home and I don't want to move by myself," Maestas said. "I need my husband."

About the Author

Provincial Affairs Reporter covering the B.C. Legislature. Anything political: tanya.fletcher@cbc.ca