Mildred Sanford and Nancy Inferrera had spent only a single night in their Maine motel before getting the good news: Their immigration issue was resolved and they could re-cross the border and return to their Nova Scotia mobile home.
The elderly women, who have little money and no car, left Canada after Ms. Inferrera, a 73-year-old American, was deported – prompting a public outcry. She and her friend of three decades, Ms. Sanford, 83, are inseparable. In addition, Ms. Sanford suffers from a heart condition and dementia and Ms. Inferrera looks after her.
"I am overjoyed," Ms. Inferrera said Thursday after a call from their Halifax lawyer, Lee Cohen.
She is being granted a three-year temporary resident visa on humanitarian and compassionate grounds; after three years, she will be able to apply to be a permanent resident. Mr. Cohen is driving to the Maine border town Friday morning to bring them home to Guysborough, N.S.
"I'm definitely going to bring them through the border. I don't want to risk this," he said, adding that he was "off the ground and so delighted for these people."
Ms. Inferrera came to Canada with her friend Ms. Sanford several years ago, not realizing she had to apply for any special immigration status. Ms. Sanford had wanted to retire in Nova Scotia, where she has some family. Together, the two women pooled their resources and bought their mobile home for $14,000 in 2007.
Ms. Inferrera eventually applied for permanent residency but was refused. She then tried a number of appeals but the authorities wouldn't budge. Even as Ms. Sanford's relatives drove the pair to Maine, however, Mr. Cohen kept pressing federal officials. Finally, as stories about their plight appeared in the media, immigration officials had another look at the case – and decided that the fact that Ms. Inferrera is caring for Ms. Sanford changed the situation.
Ms. Sanford and Ms. Inferrera are not romantically linked. They live on Ms. Inferrera's pension cheque of $799 a month and Ms. Sanford's pension cheque of $1,100. A friend also gave them some money – and the motel gave them a break on the room rate to help them out.
Mr. Cohen became involved about 18 months ago after Ms. Inferrera's humanitarian application had been turned down. He said by then the "die was cast," as once someone is rejected it is hard to reverse the decision.
"These are, as you can imagine, very modest people," Mr. Cohen said. "They're the kind of salt-of-the-earth type people, they get in nobody's way and live their lives in a kind of righteous way … they have some friends and just look after each other. You could not have a more benign couple."
Mr. Cohen said Public Safety Minister Vic Toews could have intervened to help them out, but he would not. The lawyer compared the women's situation to that of Conrad Black, the millionaire newspaper baron who was allowed back into the country last spring after serving time in a U.S. prison.
"We're looking for what Conrad Black got," he said. "And we're more deserving of it."
Although there was no "bloodshed here and no persecution of a formal sense, there is a certain amount of violence attached to this," Mr. Cohen charged. He said he couldn't believe that this is the type of immigration system that Canadians envisage – "throwing out two of the most benign people you could imagine."
The women were delighted by the outcome. "Mildred said she is going to give Mr. Cohen a real big hug," Ms. Inferrera said. "Everybody has been so good to us."