PavCo Multimedia Synergistics Weblog

May 4, 2008

ONYD: The Widow Penalty

Speaking of This American Life, the 3/28 radio broadcast brought the story of the Widow Penalty to my attention.

The Widow Penalty is an interpretation of an Immigration law which says that if an immigrant is married to an American citizen for less than two years, and the citizen spouse dies before the immigrant’s green card application is processed, the surviving non-citizen can be deported because they’re no longer married to a citizen.

Read those words very carefully, because the deciding factor here is the speed at which the government processes the request. If they process the request quickly, it’s a non-issue. If they delay precipitously and the married couple passes their two-year anniversary, again, the Widow penalty is taken out of play. It’s only when the government delays somewhat and the spouse has the bad fortune of becoming widowed without having reached their second anniversary that the government will deny the green card application because the applicant is no longer the spouse of a citizen.

There are currently approximately 85 women affected by the Widow Penalty, including the wife of an Army contractor killed in Iraq and a man who saved two teenagers from drowning in a riptide in San Francisco.

If this wasn’t one big ONYD, then the case of Carla Freeman would deserve the label; After being denied her green card by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service under the Widow Penalty, Freeman left the country, but appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court. She won. But the USCIS ignored the court’s ruling and refused to review her application.

More details on the Widow Penalty and Brent Renison’s class action lawsuit on behalf of 80 of the women currently affected by the Widow Penalty can be found here and here.

The This American Life episode which brought this to my attention, titled “The Audacity of Government”, can be listened to or downloaded here.

The 300 Project: 11/86

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1 Comment »

  1. Yave’s a brilliant writer and I’m happy he wrote such a great piece on the widow penalty. I’m also glad you picked it up. Thanks for linking to Citizen Orange!

    Comment by kyledeb — May 4, 2008 @ 11:19 pm | Reply


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