Contentious Widow’s Penalty Frozen for at Least Two Years

Published: 15/06/2009

A temporary suspension of one of the most contentious immigration policies has highlighted President Barak Obama’s interest in a ‘softer’ approach to some of the more painful consequences of US family immigration.

The current interpretation of one aspect of US family immigration under federal law, introduced as part of George W. Bush’s immigration crackdown, is now being frozen pending further notice from the US Department of Homeland Security and US Citizenship and Immigration Services, following a decision by the Obama administration.

The policy of deporting widows and widowers of US citizens, known as the ‘widow penalty’, applied to immigrants who had been married for less than two years before their US spouse died or whose US spouses had died prior to their US green card application being completed. This painful situation lead to a number of immigrants facing deportation as their US citizenship was in limbo, resulting in many lawsuits.

In response to the freezing of this policy, the Department of Homeland Security released a statement announcing that the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, which overseas immigration petitions, would now be able to give a favourable view of applications for reinstatements of previously-revoked US green card or marriage visa applications under these circumstances.

Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security Secretary, also announced that the department would maintain the freeze for at least two years, with all US green card, marriage visa or spousal visa action against widows or widowers being halted. She said, “Smart immigration policy balances strong enforcement practices with common-sense, practical solutions to complicated issues.”

The freeze offers temporary relief for around 200 widows and widowers whose US spouses died before a green card application was completed. It is widely seen as an illustration of President Obama’s new, realistic approach to US immigration. As Texan immigration attorney Dan Kowalski commented, “It’s a good sign…If comprehensive [immigration] reform advances, it will help pave the way. If not, at least he can say he tried.”

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