Widow Wins Deportation Fight After Decade Long Battle

Thirteen years ago to the day Raquel Williams met her husband Derek, on January 17, 2001, and today her green card denial was overturned by a unanimous Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals panel, finding in her favor.  Raquel, a citizen of Brazil, had married Derek Williams, a U.S. citizen on January 11, 2002, and together they filed for Raquel's green card.  The couple had a son, Ian, together, but tragically on September 17, 2003 Derek died of sleep apnea at the age of 30.  Raquel's green card application had not yet been acted on by immigration, and was denied under a policy that became known as the "widow penalty."  It was denied purely because immigration hadn't acted in time to review her application.  Raquel was interviewed on CBS News 60 Minutes and NPR's This American Life radio show about the widow penalty.  Shortly before the widow penalty was abolished by Congress in 2009, Raquel briefly remarried, then divorced.  This remarriage ended her ability to self-petition as a widow, due to a remarriage bar in that law.  Yet in 2009, at the same time it abolished the widow penalty, Congress also enacted a new section of law protecting surviving relatives, Section 204(l) (8 U.S.C. 1154(l), and establishing that if a petition was filed on behalf of an immigrant before death, then the relationship "immediately prior to the death" was the relationship upon which a benefit could be based.  Brent Renison, Raquel's attorney, pressed to have her application adjudicated based on the new 204(l) law, but the immigration agency, USCIS, applied the remarriage bar to her case, even though the new surviving relative law contained no remarriage bar.  Brent Renison then took the case to the federal courts.  Today, January 17, 2013, a unanimous three judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit court of appeals held as follows:

"Raquel Pascoal Williams appeals the District Court's grant of summary judgment in favor of U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  The District Court interpreted parts of the Immigraton and Nationality Act (INA) to prevent Ms. Pascoal from adjusting her immigration status to become a legal permanent resident.  Her appeal raises a novel issue of statutory interpretation: whether the remarriage bar in the second sentence of the 'immediate relatives' definition in 8 U.S.C. 1151(b)(2)(A)(i) applies to Ms. Pascoal's renewed application to adjust her status under the recently enacted 1154(l).  After careful review and with the benefit of oral argument, we find that it does not.  We therefore reverse the grant of summary judgment and remand for entry of judgment in favor of Ms. Pascoal."  Williams v. DHS Secretary, 13-11270 (11th Cir. 2013).

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