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April 22, 2009

A Proper Decision In Immigration Case

An immigrant whose American spouse dies before their paperwork for permanent residency has been processed by the government should not be ruled ineligible for that status. That the government has acted differently has always struck me as inappropriate (especially when such cases involve the widows of American servicemen killed in combat). Now a court has ruled that such a policy is, in fact, a violation of the law.

A federal judge tentatively ordered the Department of Homeland Security to reopen the cases of 22 people who were denied green cards because their American spouses died during the application process. U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder ruled the so-called widow penalty doesn’t necessarily require that immigrants’ permanent residency applications be denied when their American spouses die. Citing a 2006 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Snyder ruled this week that applicants don’t lose their status as spouses of U.S. citizens if the death occurs before the government rules on their applications. The decision, if made final, would be a victory for more than 200 people across the country who have been affected by the widow penalty, said attorney Brent Renison, who filed the class-action lawsuit in Los Angeles. “This case is very significant because it’s the first that follows the circuit court decision and gives guidance to the agency on what it can and cannot do in these situations,” Renison told the Associated Press on Tuesday. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has argued the law requires that residency applications be rejected for immigrants whose American spouses die within two years of being married.

Now I realize that there could be fraudulent marriages with sick old folks that might qualify under these standards, but those should be easy to screen for. What is more common is for folks to die unexpectedly – perhaps in an accident – with the result that their immigrant spouse (who may have American citizen children) would no longer be eligible to stay in this country. The result is an injustice that compounds the tragedy of a family being rent apart by death. This decision goes a long way towards correcting that injustice.





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