Senate sends president measure to end 'widow penalty'
October 20, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s legislation to stop the federal government from deporting widows and widowers who had been married to American citizens who died before a full two years of marriage is on its way to the president’s desk following a vote today in the Senate
The measure initially was filed by Nelson as a bill called the Fairness to Surviving Spouses Act. Its language was included as an amendment to a broader Homeland Security spending bill that won Senate passage in July. That spending bill was then combined with the House version of the bill, which won final approval today.
Nelson’s provision is aimed at ending the so-called widow penalty. Under current law, a foreigner must be married to an American a full two years to qualify for residency in the U.S. But in hundreds of cases the American spouse has died before the two years have been met. And the government has targeted the surviving spouse for deportation.
“First their spouse died, then they found out they were being deported because of it,” said Nelson. “We shouldn’t be kicking out widows and widowers who have made a life in this country simply because their spouse dies on the wrong side of some government timeline. The measure we passed today isn’t an automatic pass to stay in the country, but it will give those widows and widowers a process to continue their application for citizenship.”
Under the Nelson amendment, surviving spouses would still need to prove their marriage was a bona fide marriage before receiving a green card. Thus, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would retain the discretion to deny petitions, but they would no longer deny them automatically in response to the death of the citizen spouse.