BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Monchai Chuaychoo had been living with his fiance Amber Michiels at her home in Cambridge, Ontario since early March. Chuaychoo returned to his home in Buffalo in July to handle personal matters, but when he attempted to cross back into Canada to be with his new fiance, border officials denied his entry.
"So I came back, I was bawling my eyes out in my car," said Chuaychoo.
The border between the United States and Canada has been closed to non-essential travel for five months. Canada allows foreign nationals who are immediate family members of Canadian citizens to enter the country, but the definition of immediate family excludes committed partners and adult children of Canadian citizens.
In response to that exclusion, a grassroots organization called Advocacy for Family Reunification at the Canadian Border has been building a strong following from people on both sides of the border who are frustrated and heartbroken over their separation from loved ones.
“There are adult children trying to come in to see mom before she passes away, there is a breast feeding American mother who is unable to come into Canada with the baby that she had with a Canadian man," said Dr. David Edward-Ooi Poon, founder of Advocacy for Family Reunification at the Canadian Border.
Since its inception in May, the organization has worked with an epidemiologist to develop a four-point public safety accountability plan, and has garnered more than 5,000 signatures for a petition to amend the definition of immediate family during the COVID-19 crisis to allow for more family reunification. The petition was presented to Canada's House of Commons on Wednesday.
“We are not asking for open borders, we are just asking to be together," said Dr. Poon.
Canada's Border Services Agency recognizes the tough position families are being put in, but says the measures are to help reduce and manage the number of cases of COVID-19 due to foreign travel.
“My department has worked diligently to find innovative ways to reunite families," said Marco Mendicino, Canada's Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship when asked about the situation in the House of Commons.
Stateside, Rep. Brian Higgins has also been trying to get the Department of Homeland Security to work with its Canadian counterparts to amend the restrictions.
"Last week [Rep. Higgins] spoke with a DHS official on exemptions and caregivers. DHS was interested in furthering this discussion with the Canadians," said Theresa Kennedy, spokesperson for Rep. Higgins.
Meantime, Chuaychoo and Michiels are not willing to wait for Canada to make changes. They have booked flights to Las Vegas, Nevada, where they will get married so that Chuaychoo can legally enter Canada as Michiels' married spouse.
“We’re taking every precaution we can to make sure that our wedding is safe, just the two of us, and that we follow the quarantine procedure,” said Chuaychoo.
The current border restrictions are in place until August 21st, but stakeholders expect the restrictions to remain beyond the current deadline given the surging COVID-19 cases in the United States.