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Signs That Reform Is Coming: Senate Repeals “Widow Penalty”

by Mahwish Khan on 10/21/2009 at 1:26pm

Yesterday, on a vote of 79-19 on the conference report on the Department of Homeland Security Fiscal Year 2010 Appropriations bill, the Senate repealed the “widow penalty” – a measure that was enacted 71 years ago, prohibiting a widowed, foreign spouse to file for citizenship (for themselves and their non-US citizen children) in the event that they had been married for less than two years. According to the New York Times:

The new provision does not directly address the government’s definition of marriage, but it allows foreigners married to Americans for less than two years to submit their own petition for residency within two years of the spouse’s death, as long as they have not remarried and can prove a good-faith marriage.

The law is also retroactive; any immigrant whose citizen spouse died less than two years after they wed, no matter how long ago, would have two years from the law’s enactment to petition for residency.

The news comes as relief to many advocates who have been fighting deportation cases on behalf of a segment of the population that clearly has the right to stay in the country. The Wall Street Journal reports:

“This utterly changes the lives of these immigrants,” said Brent Renison, an attorney who has been fighting widow cases for several years. “They will go from being in the shadows and fearing a knock on the door by an immigration agent to leading productive lives with their families.”

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