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US Immigration Advocates Cheer End of 'Widow Penalty'

  • Paige Kollock

Osserritta Robinson (L) and her late husband

Osserritta Robinson (L) and her late husband

US lawmakers have approved a measure that would end the government's practice of annulling foreigners' applications for permanent residency when their American spouses die within the first two years of the marriage.

Osserritta Robinson was just 24 when she came to the USA from Jamaica. While working as a front desk agent in a hotel, she met Louis Robinson, fell in love and got married.

"He took it upon himself to ask me out, and I accepted, and that was it," she recalled. "And one date, and that was it."

Eight months later, her husband was riding the Staten Island Ferry on his way home from work when the boat crashed into a pier. Louis Robinson was killed, along with 10 others on board.

"It puts you in a state of shock, you're like, I just married you and now I have to bury you," she added.

As Robinson was grieving her husband, she had another shock. Her application to become a permanent U.S. resident was rejected, even though her husband had filed the proper papers to sponsor her. The law required that a couple be married for at least two years for the spouse to be considered for U.S. residency.

With the help of immigration lawyer Jeffrey Feinbloom, Robinson sued the Department of Homeland Security.

"The decision left her without any legal status," he explained. "Fortunately, she was not placed under removal proceedings. Unfortunately, many other widows have been placed under removal proceedings. They are unable to work; they are unable to travel; they are unable to get a driver's license... It's a tough way to live."

After five years of lawsuits and appeals in various courts, Robinson had a victory. In October, the U.S. Senate approved a bill ending the so-called "widow penalty." According to the advocacy group Surviving Spouses Against Deportation, the measure provides refuge for more than 200 widows and widowers who entered the country legally, but were subject to deportation because their spouses died.

ROBINSON: "I was so happy, I was like, 'Yes, finally,' but, you know, that feeling doesn't last long because you say, 'Now what?'"

FEINBLOOM: "They are taking affirmative steps to reopen the denied cases, and hopefully carry through the law's intent, which is to legalize the status of these widows."

It's been a long fight for Robinson, but her efforts paid off. She has an appointment with the U.S. Immigration office, where her application for residency will be reviewed in the light of the new law.