LYNDEN, Wash. - The US-Canada border has been shut down for more than a year now for nonessential travel. Currently, there are no concrete plans to get it back open or even expand on who qualifies for essential border crossing. Government officials say the closure is meant to slow the spread of COVID, but the people it impacts hope for a re-evaluation, saying ‘family is essential.’
“It's interesting, we only live two minutes from the border,” Joanna Bysterveld said.
So close, yet so far. At least Joanna can't help but feel that way when it comes to her family. For the past 14 months, there has been a painful pause on things like grandparents watching sporting events, or helping her prepare a meal, even simple things like bedtime snuggles are a distant memory. The only family time they can get these days occurs at an unconventional spot.
“We call them 'ditch visits,’” she said. “There are two roads. One side of the fence is the American road, on the other side there is Canada. We’ll often meet right here in our cars and just chat.”
The small stretch of off-road and ditch has had to play host to some of life’s sweetest moments lately, including birthday celebrations. The family also arranges meet-ups at Peace Arch Park.
“We are thankful the park is still open, even though they closed the Canadian side down….the American side is still open,” Joanna said.
They’ve made the most of what they can do while regretting not cherishing when family time was so simple.
“We used to cross the border one or two times a week,” she said. “Our lives have drastically changed. My kids are missing their grandparents, they miss their cousins. My husband is Canadian, and I'm a dual citizen. We lived in Canada for a while. Most of our family and friends live in Canada.”
It’s a two-mile separation that at times feels like two million.
“It’s really sad,” she said. “My kids have been in tears. I've been in the shower bawling my eyes out.”
Especially as Joanna and her husband preparing for their third child.
“Bringing a baby into the world, there is so much joy and excitement, but to not have your loved ones right there, it's awful,” she said. “I miss them.”
Joanna is not optimistic for improvements anytime soon.
“I don't think the border will open this year,” she said.
Joanna says she completely understands restrictions are meant to keep people safe and healthy, but she can’t help but wonder if the unintended consequences are starting to outweigh the benefits.
“I think family is essential for mental health and to be a community …. Just be with the ones you love,” she said.
Joanna’s husband works in Canada and travels there almost daily for work. He is only permitted to go straight to work and come home.
According to MSN, there is talk that the border could reopen by July, at least US Congressman Brian Higgins is pushing for that.