- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A federal judge tentatively ordered the Department of Homeland Security to reopen the cases of 22 people who were denied green cards because their American spouses died during the application process.

U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder ruled the so-called widow penalty doesn’t necessarily require that immigrants’ permanent residency applications be denied when their American spouses die. Citing a 2006 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Snyder ruled this week that applicants don’t lose their status as spouses of U.S. citizens if the death occurs before the government rules on their applications.

The decision, if made final, would be a victory for more than 200 people across the country who have been affected by the widow penalty, said attorney Brent Renison, who filed the class-action lawsuit in Los Angeles.

“This case is very significant because it’s the first that follows the circuit court decision and gives guidance to the agency on what it can and cannot do in these situations,” Renison told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has argued the law requires that residency applications be rejected for immigrants whose American spouses die within two years of being married.

Lawyers are also fighting the widow penalty in Missouri, Maryland, Georgia and Texas.

DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said she could not comment on any of the lawsuits, but she said addressing the widow penalty has been a priority in her department since Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano took office earlier this year.

“A review of our legal, legislative and other possible means to address the problem is under way,” Kudwa said.

Renison acknowledged DHS’s new leadership will need time to analyze the issue but hopes the widow penalty will be revised soon. He said he plans to continue litigating the policy until the Supreme Court agrees to review it or until Congress passes a law to close the legal gap.

“The decision can’t come soon enough for these families,” he said. “It’s just a terrible situation to be in.”

Snyder issued her preliminary ruling Monday and scheduled a hearing for Wednesday. Renison said he is not sure if the judge will make a final decision during the hearing.

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