AILA Applauds Congressional Effort to End the Immigration Widow Penalty

Tuesday, June 23, 2009
George Tzamaras

WASHINGTON, DC - The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) praises Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) for their statements today in support of their bipartisan, bicameral, legislation to end the immigration widow penalty. The Fairness to Surviving Spouses Act of 2009 (S. 815/H.R. 1870) would halt the deportation of individuals whose pending applications for green cards are not approvable because their U.S. citizen spouse died within the first two years of marriage.

AILA supports this legislation because, under current law, when a US citizen marries a non-citizen, the non-citizen is eligible to become a legal permanent resident and receive a green card. However, the U.S. citizen spouse must file a petition on behalf of the non-citizen spouse before the two-year anniversary of the conditional green card as the non-citizen cannot ordinarily self-petition for legal permanent resident status during this time.

If, however, the citizen spouse dies while the petition, through no fault of the couple, remains pending the petition is automatically denied, and the noncitizen surviving spouse and children become deportable. This is the case even if there is ample evidence of a good faith marriage, such as cohabitation, and shared finances. It is even the case if a couple has a U.S. born child.

"This widow penalty goes against our core American values, it is harsh and unsympathetic and should be eliminated," said Bernie Wolfsdorf, president of AILA. "Congress can fix it by allowing the petition to be adjudicated even though the citizen spouse has died as permitted by the Fairness to Surviving Spouses Act of 2009."

Wolfsdorf concluded, "We applaud Senator Nelson and Congressman McGovern for championing this cause and hope that together we can end the immigration widow penalty. AILA would also like to thank the brave spouses and immigration attorney Brent Renison who have worked limitlessly to tell their stories and to end the widow penalty."


The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 09062330.