Wesley and Carol Pringle crossed the border into Niagara Falls, Ont., for a second honeymoon on Christmas Day.
But when they tried to cross back into the United States, Carol – an Australian citizen unfamiliar with U.S. immigration law – was denied. Her visa had expired.
It got worse.
Wesley crossed back into the U.S. alone, but when he tried to return to his wife, he was denied access into Canada. Two old arrests popped up on his background check.
Now, Carol – who is disabled and relies heavily on Wesley for help – is stuck in a hotel room in Niagara Falls, Ont., and her husband is back home in Steuben County.
Neither is able to cross the border to be with each other.
“My wife’s not a threat to this country. She needs me,” said Wesley, 50. “We’re not asking for anything from anybody – just to be together.”
An official with U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Buffalo said he wasn’t familiar with the Pringle case, and even if he was, privacy laws prevent the agency from discussing the details unless an arrest is made or a criminal complaint is filed.
But border agents see a lot of different situations every day, and people are denied entry in the U.S. for a variety of reasons, including criminal history and improper documentation, said Thomas Rusert, chief Customs and Border Protection officer for the Port of Buffalo.
Such cases are often steered to the U.S. Consulate in Toronto.
The Pringles say this is all an honest mistake on their part. Here’s their account:
The couple met on a singles website and communicated through the Internet for several months, before Carol left Australia to visit Wesley in Wyoming County.
When she returned home, Wesley chased after her. The couple married on May 17, 2003, and settled in Australia.
But last year, the Pringles decided to resettle in the U.S., returning in late September and eventually buying a place on 3½ acres in Prattsburg.
On Christmas Day, they drove to Wyoming County to have dinner with Wesley’s mother, then headed for Buffalo, where they crossed the Peace Bridge into Canada.
When they tried to return on Dec. 28, U.S. Customs at the Rainbow Bridge gave the Pringles a rude awakening: Carol’s visa had expired.
The couple knew Carol legally had 90 days in the U.S. as a visitor but didn’t pay close enough attention to the date of expiration. While the Pringles had started the process for her permanent residency, they hadn’t filed the paperwork. They also thought that by re-entering the U.S. from Canada, Carol would get another 90 days as a visitor.
The couple’s problems worsened, however, when they drove to Windsor, Ont., with the idea that Wesley would make a trip alone to Chicago in hopes of expediting Carol’s visa. At one point, Wesley crossed the border into Detroit, and when he tried to return to the couple’s Windsor hotel, he was denied entry into Canada.
A background check showed two old arrests: a weapons charge from when he was a teenager and a criminal mischief charge stemming from a domestic dispute during his previous marriage.
Now, Carol was stuck in Canada alone, and Wesley had no way of getting her.
Wesley’s mother, Sharon Evans, eventually drove to Windsor, picked up Carol and returned her to Niagara Falls, where she and her mother-in-law have been staying for more than a week.
This mess at the border has cost the Pringles about $8,000 for food, accommodations and an immigration attorney to help them sort it all out.
The worst part is Carol suffers from a blood disorder and had a stroke several years ago that affected her speech, memory and mobility. She relies on Wesley.
“Everyday we say to each other, 'We hope this ends tomorrow,’ ” Carol said, “but it doesn’t.”