Nova Scotia

79-year-old finally a permanent resident 7 years after deportation saga

Nancy Inferrera and Mildred Sanford are lifelong friends who live together in Guysborough, N.S. Inferrera was ordered deported to the U.S. This week, her immigration case was finally resolved.

American citizen Nancy Inferrera refused to leave lifelong friend Mildred Sanford in Guysborough

Nancy Inferrera and Mildred Sanford are life-long friends who live together in Guysborough, N.S., (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

A long immigration saga is finally over for two women from Guysborough, N.S. 

Nancy Inferrera, 79, waved a sheaf of permanent residency papers as she walked out of the Citizenship and Immigration office in Halifax on Tuesday, arm in arm with her immigration lawyer Lee Cohen. 

"Finally made it," she said.

"I know she's going to stay now," said her friend 89-year-old Mildred Sanford, her voice quavering and her eyes welling up with tears.

Things weren't always so simple for Sanford and Inferrera.

Sanford was born and raised in Guysborough. Inferrera is a U.S. citizen from Massachusetts. They met decades ago while living and working in the Boston area. 

They became fast friends. When Sanford's husband passed away, they moved in together. 

"We're friends. Been friends for years. She knew my family and I know ... all her family. So we're very close, very good friends."

In 2007, Sanford decided to move home to Guysborough, and Inferrera moved with her. 

They bought a trailer and lived there uneventfully until 2011. That's when Inferrera applied to become a permanent resident of Canada. 

Deportation in 2012

Immigration authorities were unhappy to learn that Inferrera had been living quietly in Guysborough on her American pension on an expired tourist visa. They ordered her to leave Canada

In November 2012, the pair crossed the New Brunswick-Maine border back to the U.S. 

"I honestly did not think I was coming back. I cried like a baby," Inferrera said.  "I know I'm an elderly woman and shouldn't cry. But I cried like a baby especially when I got down to the border."

From left, immigration lawyer Lee Cohen, Mildred Sanford, Beulah Avery and Nancy Inferrera wait for Inferrera to be granted permanent residency in Canada. (Jack Julian/CBC)

Sanford, who was 83 at the time, suffered from a heart condition and early signs of dementia. 

She refused to leave her friend, and crossed the border with her, even though she risked losing her home and her Canadian health care. 

"It was just a nightmare," she said. 

Minister intervenes

It was through the intervention of Jason Kenney, the citizenship minister at the time, that Inferrera was allowed to return to Canada after spending several nights at a motel in Maine

Inferrera and Sanford returned to their modest home in Guysborough, where they get by on their combined pensions of roughly $2,000 per month. 

Inferrera stayed on temporary residency permits, but her status was not secured until Tuesday. 

Halifax immigration lawyer Lee Cohen has advocated for Inferrera and Sanford since 2011. 

"Effectively, Mildred and Nancy are family. But under the immigration legislation they are not. And had we been able to determine that they were family in law, then Nancy would not have to have gone through 12 years of waiting to get to this moment," he said.

Cohen said this is a "larger policy issue" that needs to addressed. 

"But for the moment this is a day of celebration and joy, and I'm very, very pleased to be a part of it," he said.

After her immigration interview and approval process, Inferrera and Sanford headed straight back to Guysborough. 

Their friends Archie and Beulah Avery got up at 4 a.m. to drive them to Halifax for the 9 a.m. appointment. 

After a coffee at Tim Hortons, it was time to drive home.

"I'm just going to relax enjoy the rest of my time here in Canada," Inferrera said. 

Inferrera said she'll apply for Canadian citizenship, once the requisite two years has elapsed. 

"I want to be a full-fledged Canadian," she said. 

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About the Author

Jack Julian

Reporter

Jack Julian joined CBC Nova Scotia as an arts reporter in 1997. His news career began on the morning of Sept. 3, 1998 following the crash of Swissair 111. He is now a data journalist in Halifax, and you can reach him at (902) 456-9180, by email at jack.julian@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @jackjulian