On June 9th, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced a reformed policy of granting “deferred action” for two years to widows and widowers of U.S. Citizens, as well as their unmarried children under 18 years old, who are living in the U.S. and who were married for less than the required to years when their U.S. Citizen spouse died.
Under current U.S. immigration law, immigrants applying for Lawful Permanent Resident status and other immigration benefits through marriage to a U.S. Citizen must be married for two years in order to receive these benefits. However, when a U.S. Citizen spouse dies before the two-year mark, the petition for their alien relative dies with them, leaving the alien spouses to face not only the heartbreak and grief of losing a spouse, but the harsh reality of having to leave behind their lives in the U.S. and return to their home countries. This new policy of deferred action does not resolve the surviving spouse’s immigration status, but it does suspend removal proceedings against them, and offers them the opportunity to apply for employment authorization if they can prove economic necessity.
Additionally, Secretary Napolitano also ordered the suspension of the adjudication of visa petitions and adjustment applications filed for the widow or widower where the death of the U.S. Citizen spouse before the two-year mark was the only purpose for the reassessment of their status. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will not initiate or continue removal proceedings, or execute final orders or removal against these widows and their minor children. What’s more, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will start to favorably consider requests for humanitarian reinstatement of previously approved petitions that were revoked because of the two-year rule.
While it is clear that these measures are not a permanent fix for our nation’s broken immigration system, they are a giant step in the right direction and demonstrate not only Secretary Napolitano’s intent to work for reform, but also the administration’s recognition of need to overhaul the U.S.’ archaic immigration laws and establish a more humanitarian system that puts families first.