Press Release

Menendez, Nelson, Gillibrand Provisions for Immigrant Widows and Orphans Pass Senate

Jul 10, 2009

DC –
Important legislation to protect widows and orphans of deceased U.S. citizens
and legal permanent residents who are in the family immigration system gained
inclusion in the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill, which
passed in the U.S. Senate last night. The provisions, which were championed by
Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Bill Nelson and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
address the immigration-related hardships caused by the death of a sponsoring
relative by allowing orphans, widows and widowers to continue in the family
immigration system. Menendez and Gillibrand are the sponsors of the Orphans,
Widows and Widowers Protection Act
and Nelson has championed the issue of
widow and orphan immigrants for a number of years.

Senator Menendez said: “The
law-abiding loved ones covered under this provision call the United States home
and have done everything right. They should not be kicked out of line solely
because of the death of a parent or spouse. This legislation is vital to give
these widows, widowers and orphans continued access to our legal family
immigration system. Today’s action is one important step toward solving the
crisis in our legal family immigration system and toward reinforcing family
unity as the core of our immigration system. I look forward to fixing our
broken immigration system through comprehensive immigration reform legislation
later this year.”

Senator Gillibrand said: “This legislation
marks another important step towards  comprehensive immigration reform. 
After experiencing the loss of a loved one, law-abiding people seeking legal
citizenship in this country should not experience further punishment by losing
their opportunity to become legal citizens of this country.  This
important legislation will protect some of the families being torn apart by our
immigration system.  This is a critical part of our efforts to reform
America’s family-based immigration system to reunite loved ones, promote family
stability and foster the economic growth that immigrant families have provided
throughout our history.”

The orphans, widows and widowers
provisions were including in an amendment to the DHS bill sponsored by Senator
Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and co-sponsored by Senators Menendez, Nelson, Kent Conrad
(D-ND), Gillibrand, Harry Reid (D-NV), Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Charles
Schumer (D-NY). The Hatch amendment also included immigration provisions for
religious workers and aid workers.

There are more than 200 surviving spouses
of U.S. citizens fighting against immigration deportation and countless other
legal immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers who have been deported or risk
deportation because of the death of a loved one. This legislation offers a
lasting solution for these legal immigrants impacted by the death of a loved

Currently, if a sponsoring relative
dies, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service will generally deny the
petition after the sponsoring relative’s death. This bill clarifies that the
government should continue to process the immigration applications of
immigrants who are already waiting to receive an immigrant or other visa under
certain conditions.

On Tuesday, June 9, 2009, the Department
of Homeland Security announced that it was granting temporary relief from
deportation to the spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens. This bill
extends permanent relief to orphans, widows and widowers of legal immigrants
including the relatives of U.S. citizens, permanent residents and refugees subject
to Department of Homeland Security discretion in certain cases.