Answers to some Frequently Asked Questions about the legislation that passed October 28, 2009 are provided here, and you may also wish to visit the EDUCATION section for detailed tips on how to request benefits.
November 30, 2009 - The Government Printing Office released the official text of the new law, Pub. L. No. 111-83, 123 Stat. 2142, and it is reproduced in full form to the right. The relevant pages containing "Relief for Surviving Spouses" and the new "Surviving Relative Consideration for Certain Petitions and Applications" are at 2186 to 2188. When corresponding with USCIS about a pending or previously denied case that is eligible for auto conversion, or filing a new petition, it will be helpful to print out those pages and include in the submission. It is expected that more detailed guidance will be issued by USCIS soon. Until then, the official GPO document establishes the right of surviving spouses, children, and other relatives to relief as of October 28, 2009.
October 28, 2009 - PRESIDENT OBAMA SIGNED H.R. 2892 INTO LAW TODAY, MAKING A NEW LAW AND ENDING THE WIDOW PENALTY! The new law is Public Law No. 111-83. The historic signing was announced this afternoon by the White House in a Press Release. While Agency plans to implement the new law are forthcoming, an FAQ is provided here.
October 27, 2009 - President Obama is expected to sign H.R. 2892, the DHS Appropriations Conference Report, as early as tomorrow according to some sources. The White House Executive Clerk's office could not confirm that information, but acknowledged that the bill had been received by the President.
October 20, 2009 - Why did it take nearly six years to change such a ridiculous law as the widow penalty? Well, considering it has been around for seventy-one years, one might have expected as much!
I for one am extremely happy about Congress' actions today, and feel glad for the families whose suffering should end soon with this bill. I also feel hope for those who lose loved ones in the future, because they will not need to endure the indignity of the widow penalty while trying to grieve their loss! I have prepared a press release here, and also some answers to frequently asked questions that I anticipate will come up. Thank you, everyone, for your support in making this day possible. It is a great day!
October 20, 2009 - THE SENATE VOTED 79 to 19 TO PASS THE BILL! THE WIDOW PENALTY IS ENDED!
October 15, 2009 - HOUSE VOTES 307 TO 114 TO PASS DHS APPROPRIATIONS BILL CONTAINING PROVISION TO END THE WIDOW PENALTY! Now that the House has passed the bill, the Senate will take up the bill and vote. An expert interviewed on C-SPAN this morning thought the Senate could vote as early as this week, but no later than next week!
October 13, 2009 - The Homeland Security Appropriations Committee today released the bill text of the Conference Report. It is reproduced in relevant part here (page 1 and pages 140-145). If passed and signed into law, the provisions would allow widows and widowers married less than two years to self-petition (Form I-360) within two years of the spouse's death or within two years of the law's passage (whichever is later). This is the most significant provision, and would lead to lawful permanent resident status without the necessity of a substitute affidavit of support sponsor. It allows the inclusion of children on the petition. It should also allow previously filed I-130 petitons to be automatically converted to I-360 self petitions under the current regulation found at 8 C.F.R. 204.2(b). This bill, if passed, would end the widow penalty.
The bill also has provisions covering other situations, entitled "surviving relative consideration." These provisions deal with surviving relatives whose petitioner or principal beneficiary died during the immigration process, and are in addition to the widow(er) self petition provisions. If a person does not qualify under the self-petition procedures (which would be rare), one could look to the other provisions to determine whether relief could still be granted.
October 7, 2009 - The Conferees kept the provisions to end the widow penalty in the final bill!!! We are one more step toward ending the widow penalty! Now the conference report will be issued and will be voted upon by the House and Senate. Please keep up hope and keep praying that the bill will pass and be signed into law by President Obama!
October 2, 2009 - As reported in the Washington Times, "The House went on record Thursday against allowing detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba to be transferred to the United States, even to face trial or to be jailed in maximum-security prisons. The 258-163 vote on a nonbinding recommendation put Democrats controlling the House in a difficult spot and prompted senior lawmakers to postpone unveiling a House-Senate agreement on a homeland security funding bill."
The bill referenced in the Washington Times article is the DHS Appropriations bill, which contains the widow penalty fix. Therefore, the full House of Representatives has temporarily stalled the progress of our provision over the Guantanamo prisoner dispute. It will be next week, possibly later, before we know more about how the dispute will be resolved. Until then, our provision remains stalled along with the DHS Appropriations bill. FULL WASHINGTON TIMES ARTICLE
July 14, 2009 - Please contact the Conferees in the Senate and House and use this one pager to get your point across!
July 9, 2009 - THE HATCH AMENDMENT WHICH INCLUDES A FIX TO THE WIDOW PENALTY WAS UNANIMOUSLY AGREED TO BE INCLUDED IN THE SENATE HOMELAND SECURITY APPROPRIATIONS BILL! THANKS ARE DUE TO SENATOR HATCH, SENATOR NELSON, SENATOR MENENDEZ, AND SENATOR GILLIBRAND FOR THEIR LEADERSHIP ON THIS ISSUE! Now, the bill goes to the House for reconciliation between the House DHS appropriations bill and the Senate version. If passed by House and Senate, it then goes to the President for signature. Be prepared to respond to calls for advocacy when they come!
July 8, 2009 - Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced an amendment today along with Senator Nelson (D-FL), Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) and Senator Menendez (D-NJ) to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations Bill, which includes provisions to help widows and orphans! The Amendment, No. 1428, which also includes an extension of the religious worker and Conrad 30 rural doctor programs, would END THE WIDOW PENALTY!
Please call the Capitol Hill Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to be connected with your State Senators, and urge them to SUPPORT THE HATCH AMENDMENT, #1428, TO THE DHS APPROPRIATIONS BILL! There is no time to waste, as this bill is being considered this week!!!
June 11, 2009 - Senator Menendez (D-NJ) joined Senators Gillibrand (D-NY) and Leahy (D-VT) in introducing the Orphans, Widows and Widowers Protection Act (S. 1247), which addresses surviving relative issues. Specifically, the bill would:
protect orphans, parents and spouses of United States citizens by allowing them to continue their applications through the family immigration system in cases where the citizens' or residents' relative died if the individual self-petitions within two years;
allow the spouse and minor children of family-sponsored immigrants and derivative beneficiaries of employment-based visas to benefit from a filed visa petition after the death of a relative or adjust status on the basis of a petition filed before the death of the sponsoring relative if the application is filed within two years;
allow the spouse and minor children of refugees and asylees to immigrate to the U.S. despite the death of the principal applicant and allow them to adjust their status to permanent residence;
provide processes to reopen previously denied cases and allow individuals to be paroled into the U.S. in cases where the sponsoring relative died after submitting an immigration application; and promote efficient naturalization of widows and widowers by allowing the surviving spouse to continue with a naturalization application as long as the deceased spouse was a citizen of the United States during the three years prior to filing.
The House bill is H.R. 1870. Joining McGovern as original House cosponsors are Brian Bilbray (R-CA); Ed Markey (D-MA); Raul Grijalva (D-AZ); Albio Sires (D-NJ); Jerrold Nadler (D-NY); Michael McMahon (D-NY); John Lewis (D-GA); Neil Abercrombie (D-HI); Gene Green (D-TX); David Wu (D-OR); Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU); Daniel Lungren (R-CA); Scott Garrett (R-NJ); Charles Gonzalez (D-TX).
The Senate Bill is S. 815. Joining Nelson as original Senate cosponsors are Kennedy(D-MA), Kerry (D-MA), Menendez (D-NJ), Feinstein (D-CA), and Durbin (D-IL). Please also call these offices and express your thanks (especially Senator Feinstein, who is a new co-sponsor this year)! Please also call the Senators in the Third Circuit's jurisdiction (see list below), as we urged before, because only Senator Menendez has joined as an official co-sponsor so far.
On March 3, 2009, The Third Circuit Denied Mrs. Robinson's petition for rehearing, and now widows and widowers in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Virgin Islands will face automatic termination and deportation without appeal!
Please take a few minutes to call the Senators listed below who represent people in those areas, and URGE THEM TO CALL SENATOR BILL NELSON'S OFFICE TO JOIN AS A COSPONSOR OF THE WIDOW BILL. Senator Nelson has announced that he will soon reintroduce the Senate version of the bill that passed the House Judiciary Committee last year.
October 11, 2008 - Both the House of Representatives and the Senate went into recess this past week without passing a bill to end the widow penalty. The Senate will hold pro forma sessions throughout October, but is not scheduled to fully reconvene until November 17, 2008. The House, on the other hand, is currently not scheduled to reconvene until January 3, 2009. However, the House may be called back into session before then by the Speaker of the House if the need arises. Although the bill to end the widow penalty made it very far through the legislative process, it failed to be taken up and passed, and it will have only very limited chance of passage in the "lame duck" session after the elections. We will press for the new Congress and Administration to take up the issue of the widow penalty in 2009 if this occurs.
October 3, 2008 - House Judiciary Committee Reports the Widow Penalty Bill H.R. 6034 out of the Committee. Now that the Committee has reported the bill to the full House of Representatives, the bill is out of Committee and may be eligible to be considered by the full House. Whether or not the bill is considered depends on a number of factors, and House rules.
July 16, 2008 - Full House Judiciary Committee APPROVES HR 6034! The bill will be amended to improve the transition language of the bill, so that it is clearer. Thankfully, the outlandish amendment sought by Congressman Steve King (R-IA) which would deny status to widows who lived abroad with their American spouses was not approved by the Committee. Notably, of the many Judiciary Committee members, no other member spoke out against the bill apart from Congressman King. Immigration Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) gave a wonderful overview of the bill, and objected to the King amendment on a technical ground, which was successful in stopping the amendment. We are thankful that Congressmen Lamar Smith (R-TX), Dan Lungren (R-CA), and Ric Keller (R-FL) spoke out in favor of the bill in true bi-partisan fashion. Now, the bill should go to the full House of Representatives on the Suspension Calendar and be voted on. Senate action is still needed.
July 15, 2008 - Congressman Ric Keller (R-FL) joins as cosponsor. See a video of a widow and her child who reside in Congressman Keller's district. Thank you, Congressman Keller!
July 14, 2008 - Full House Judiciary Committee to markup HR 6034 on Wednesday, July 16, 2008. Now that the Immigration Subcommittee has approved HR 6034, the full Judiciary Committee must review the bill. If the bill is approved, it could be sent to the full House of Representatives for a vote. A positive vote in the House will still require the Senate to introduce and pass legislation for the President to sign.
July 9, 2008 - Congressman Brian Bilbray (R-CA) joins as a cosponsor of HR 6034. This cosponsorship is a key endorsement of this bi-partisan measure intended to halt the unintended practice of robbing grieving widows of their marital home. The Hon. Brian Bilbray is head of the Immigration Reform Caucus, a group formed to oppose illegal immigration.
June 18, 2008 - Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) join as cosponsors. Cosponsors now number 27!
June 12, 2008 - Cosponsor list grows to 25!
June 10, 2008 - Congressmen Jim McGovern and Mark Udall issue another letter, directed to other Congresspersons, urging support of H.R. 6034, a bill to end the widow penalty. The letter can be viewed to the right.
May 23, 2008 - Five Representatives sign on as cosponsors this week, bringing the total to 23 bill sponsors! Andre Carson (D-IN), Hilda L. Solis (D-CA), Jerry Weller (R-IL), and David Wu (D-OR) joined on May 20, 2008. Our latest cosponsor is Mike Honda (D-CA), Chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and his website states, "Mike is widowed and has two grown children. His wife, Jeanne, was a teacher at Baldwin Elementary School in San Jose before her passing in 2004." The Hon. Congressman Honda obviously understands that one does not just lose status as a spouse when one outlives the other spouse. Thank you, Congressman Honda!
May 13, 2008 - McGovern-Udall Bill Introduced! The bill to end the widow penalty has been introduced, and assigned a bill number - H.R. 6034. Please contact your Congressperson and urge them to cosponsor the bill, or if your Congressperson is named on the bill as an original cosponsor, thank them! You can find your Congressperson by entering your ZIP code into the House of Representatives website. Call now!
April 30, 2008 - GREAT NEWS! Draft Legislation Circulated by Champions McGovern and Udall!
We are contacting your office because one of your constituents is affected by an unfortunate, unintended, and unjustified administrative procedure. As you may have seen in media reports, widows of American citizens who lawfully entered the country and applied for resident status are being denied if their American spouses die before administrative processing occurs. This practice is referred to as the “widow penalty.”
When an American applies for his or her spouse to be a resident, the application can be approved as quickly as processing times permit, but in some cases death occurs after filing but before USCIS gets to the application. If conditional resident applicants suffer bureaucratic delays or an unexpected death beyond their control, they are left to face denial and deportation simply because their application was not processed in time. Current law allows the conditional petitioner to self-petition only if the marriage lasts two years.
Our legislation addresses this unjustifiable practice by allowing for a case-by-case, bona fide assessment of the marriage if the death occurred prior to two years of marriage. In other words, if the citizen spouse does die before the marriage reaches two years, the conditional resident’s petition is still considered, but the marriage has to be found to be bona fide.
We believe that case-by-case consideration of these survivor’s cases, and not an automatic denial, would serve the interests of justice and the American people. These individuals legally entered the country, have applied for legal status following established procedures, and absent their spouse’s death, their applications would have been adjudicated and routinely approved.
We have attached a draft of the bill for your review. To join us in ending the “widow penalty” and protecting surviving spouses of American citizens, some of which are widows of fallen soldiers, please contact Jay Lucey in Rep. Jim McGovern’s office at 5-6101 or at email@example.com. Deadline for Original Cosponsors is May 13, c.o.b.
James P. McGovern Mark Udall
Member of Congress Member of Congress
Jay Lucey Senior Legislative Assistant U.S. Representative Jim McGovern 438 Cannon HOB 202-225-6101 202-225-5759 (f) www.mcgovern.house.gov
September 4, 2007 - SSAD advocates the introduction of the Widows Amendment version to the right. The Widows Amendment would allow the lawfully filed applications of widows and widowers of American citizens to proceed following the death of the petitioning American spouse. It would cover widows of contractors killed in Iraq, as well as widows of active duty military killed in non-combat situations (such as a Humvee accident). SSAD is looking to Congress to end the widow penalty, and the Widows Amendment is the key.
June 28, 2007 - The Senate bill failed today to garner enough votes to proceed and was pulled from the floor. The reports show that the Senate Bill, and thus immigration reform, is dead for the foreseeable future. This is of course a very discouraging development, but we have hope that our provision can be introduced in some other vehicle during this Congress. We are only six months into a two-year Congress, the 110th Congress. Therefore, there is always a chance of reviving the Senate bill, and also a chance we can move other legislation through Congress on our very narrow issue. We will continue efforts until this unjust law is changed.
June 25, 2007 - After the Senate revived the stalled immigration legislation by introducing the Kennedy Specter bill, S. 1639, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) has continued to push for a widow amendment to fix the widow penalty. In order to garner broader support for the amendment, Senator Nelson submitted revised, shortened language. Unfortunately, as of this date, we at SSAD have been advised that the amendment is again stalled due to a "budget" point of order - apparently someone in the budget office believes this might cost someone money! Because only amendments without "issues" will be considered for inclusion in the bill, it appears we might lose the chance to have the amendment appear in the Senate Bill if it is considered later this week.
MORE ADVOCACY IS NEEDED TO ENSURE INCLUSION OF THE WIDOW AMENDMENT IN THE BILL. YOUR SENATORS ARE NOT HEARING YOUR VOICE, AND ARE GOING TO PROCEED WITHOUT THIS AMENDMENT IF YOU DO NOT MAKE THEM HEAR YOU! TELL THEM TO SUPPORT SENATOR BILL NELSON'S WIDOW AMENDMENT! June 6, 2007 - Florida Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduces widow amendment to end the widow penalty!!! Surviving Spouses Against Deportation is pleased to announce that Senator Nelson from Florida has introduced an amendment to the Compehensive Immigration Reform Bill (S. 1348) in the Senate that would eliminate the widow penalty. The amendment is number 1381, and we urge Senators to adopt the amendment through unanimous consent. Thanks to the courage of Senator Bill Nelson and his staff, surviving spouses of United States citizens have hope that an end to the injustice is near!
May 21, 2007 - A review of the draft bill, released on May 18th, shows that a partial fix to the widow penalty is included in the draft bill. The partial fix allows the filing of a self-petition within two years of the death of the qualifying relative, and includes those married less than two years. The fix does not provide, however, for surviving spouses whose U.S. citizen spouse died more than two years ago, nor does it provide a mechanism for continuing pending adjustment of status applications or immigrant visa applications. SSAD therefore endorses an amendment, similar to the one at the right, to ensure full coverage for all surviving spouse cases.
May 17, 2007 - Although the Senate had re-introduced last year's bill (S. 1348 this year) on May 9, 2007, Senators instead brokered a back room deal to create a completely different immigration bill, which was announced today. The new bill, however, has a limited fix for the widow penalty. For reference, our requested language is in H.R. 1645, as noted below, but is also in S. 1348, Sec. 504 and Sec. 761.
April 26, 2007 - PRESS RELEASE: Surviving Spouses Urge End to Widow Penalty
Congressmen Gutierrez and Flake Unveil Bipartisan Comprehensive Immigration Reform Legislation!
Congressmen Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ.) Thursday unveiled new legislation designed to fix our nation's badly broken immigration system. THE BILL INCLUDES A FIX TO THE WIDOW PENALTY!!! The bill is called the "Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy Act of 2007" ("STRIVE Act"), and has been given the House bill number H.R. 1645.
Please refer to the Summary, page 9, to see a reference to our provision. Please also refer to the Text of the bill, H.R. 1645, Section 516, pages 420-426.
When advocating on this issue, please urge Congress to support H.R. 1645, and especially the section for widows found at Section 516. We need this provision to survive intact all the way through to the President's signature.
In the Spring of 2006, bipartisan legislation introduced in the House and Senate aimed at comprehensive immigration reform included a limited form of the "Widow Penalty" fix (pages 89-91). The Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005 (Bill numbers: S. 1033, HR 2330) introduced by Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Kennedy (D-MA), and Congresspersons Kolbe (R-AZ), Flake (R-AZ) and Gutierrez (D-IL) in the 109th Congress moved through the Senate, and through a number of amendments the full version of the "widow penalty fix" authored by Brent Renison was passed by the Senate! Some key supporters of the bill were Senators Kyl (R-AZ), Kennedy (D-MA), Smith (R-OR) and Wyden (D-OR). It was a truly bi-partisan measure that enjoyed widespread support. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives blocked any immigration reform in 2006, effectively killing the Senate bill and ending hopes of fixing the widow penalty in 2006.
The 110th Congress began in January 2007 and will continue through the end of 2008. With the new Congress, a new pro-immigrant leadership has emerged. It is the hope of Surviving Spouses Against Deportation that the progress made in the Senate in the 109th Congress will carry forward into the 110th Congress. In order to move this issue forward, we need more to advocate and contact Congress! Urge our leaders to end the widow penalty!
Please consider making a call to the Washington, D.C. office of the Judiciary Committee members of the Senate and House. Yes, you can call and make a difference! Every call counts!