Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Border Keeps an American Woman From Her Partner During a Health Crisis

The author asked that the faces in this photograph be obscured to protect their privacy

I am an American woman. My partner of five years lives in Canada. I want to share our story to add a voice to this effort.

We first met on line 12 years ago, and gradually we got to know each other and fell in love. Five years ago we committed to each other as a couple, despite the challenges we faced to be together. Like so many other couples, we live separated by an invisible line seen only on maps and the stern faces of immigration officers. Each border crossing is a nerve racking experience. To cross the border is to be reunited with the other, but still it is an act filled with fear and dread. The greatest anxiety we feel is that on this attempt to enter, we will be denied. I never know if the Canadian officials will allow me yet another visit. She never knows if the Americans will permit her to come see me. It is in one word, crazy.

Right now my partner and the love of my life is battling lung cancer. She is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy. My visits with her are rationed, and carefully planned and scheduled. The most important goal for me, given her health situation, is to preserve the opportunity to visit her. To maximize my chances, I go up only ever other week. We are both afraid that if I try to go more often I might be denied from crossing the border and unable to be with her. We are also afraid that if I am denied once, I may be denied again and again. This fear may not sound rational. Even though I only have an intention to visit her, the concern is that the Canadian authorities may conclude that I wish to stay there permanently. In fact that is not true. But still there is the worry. Will one visit too many result in an officer will put an end to these difficult but vital trips?

My partner agonizes, too, about whether she will be denied entry as a visitor when she is well enough to travel again to the U.S.

It hurts me and her that I can't be with her while she is undergoing her treatment. It is devastating to think that I am stuck on one side of a border, by an invisible line that seems not to know about our humanity; this is never more upsetting than when is told she might not survive the treatment. She lives very far from her family who are on the other side of the country.

I am fortunate because my employer recognizes the issue has allowed me to work out a schedule so that I can go and be with her. Regardless, I am limited as to the amount of time I can take off form work. I also have to pay bills, take care of a home and take care of our pets. If the U.S. government would recognize our relationship I would be able to have her here with me and care for her 24/7 during this difficult time. Right now I worry about my not being there if something was to happen. I worry that I won’t be there when she needs someone to take her to the doctor or to the ER.

Through this awful experience, I learned knew things about people close to me. For example, I never would have thought my parents would have accepted our relationship but they surprised me. They welcomed my partner into the family just like they did my sisters’ husbands. I can’t help but think: if my parents with the good old southern up bringing can accept us and love us, why can’t my own government let us be together?

I am not much of a writer, I find it hard to convey our story for others to understand. But imagine your spouse fighting for her life and you can’t be there to hold their hand when they are getting sick from the chemo, give them a hug when it gets to hard to walk across a room, or fix them a meal so they can keep their strength up so they can go to another treatment. Imagine not being able to hold them and tell them you love them every day when the fear stalks you that it might be your last day to do so.

I cannot do this because we are a lesbian couple and the American government refuses to recognize our relationship. The state where I live does not permit same-sex couples to marry, but we would be happy to marry in one of the states that does allow it, or in Canada. But we need the United States immigration service to recognize that marriage. I must be able to sponsor her for a green card. This border should not be keeping us apart.

For now, I am grateful to be able to visit her every other week hoping and praying that nothing terrible happens during her treatments. She knows that I love her even though I am not there to hold her hand.

I am tired of being treated like a second class citizen.


  1. We are truly saddened to hear your story & want to reach out & express our solidarity with you against the injustice with which you are confronted: rest assured that you are not alone in being separated from your loved one in their hour of need! This is something we see every day! We will keep your story in mind as we work toward a more just & humane immigration system in this country - & we will tell your story in anyone who will listen in the hopes that they can see that this is just not right, fair, just, or civilized! May you be strong, sister, and use your grief to help others in theirs!

  2. Governments and their officials should show a little compassion here.

  3. God bless you both xx