Immigration & Crimes
Immigration & Health care
behind the case
CASE: Williams v. Sec'y, Dep't Homeland Sec.,
No. 13-11270 (11th Cir., Jan. 17, 2014)
ATTORNEY: Brent Renison, et al.
by Sheeba Raj
hanks to strenuous advocacy by aorneys,
legislators, and families, hundreds of immigrant
widow(er)s dealing with the loss of their spouses
wouldn't have to contend with the denial of their
green-card applications simply because they weren't
adjudicated before the death of the spouse. e widow
penalty, as it is known, was abolished in 2009 when
Congress amended INA §201(b)(2)(A)(i) to eliminate the
requirement that self-petitioning widows of U.S. citizens
be married at least two years at the time of the death.
In 2004, Brent Renison, of Parrilli Renison LLC in
Portland, OR, and other aorneys around the country
started representing members of this group. "[O]ne
of the key challenges was trying to get everybody
talking to each other, sharing ideas and information,
and collaborating on litigation and also on advocacy
to try to get the law changed," Renison explained.
"We started using a list serve to help coordinate our
litigation efforts to try to go out to different circuits
and challenge the widow penalty."
Raquel Pascoal Williams, a Brazilian native, was one
of Renison's clients whose application was ultimately
denied because of the "widow penalty." She had
married Derek Williams on January 11, 2002. He
petitioned for her later that year and she filed an
application for adjustment of status. But before the
petition and application were adjudicated, her husband
died of sleep apnea. Just before Congress ended the
widow penalty in 2009, Williams remarried, but then
divorced. at marriage ended her ability to self-
petition as a widow, due to the remarriage bar in INA
§201(b)(2)(A)(i). Also in 2009, Congress enacted INA
§204(l), which provides that if a petition was filed on
an immigrant's behalf before the petitioner's death,
then the benefit was to be based on the relationship
immediately before death. Renison sought to have
Williams's case reopened based on the new INA 204(l),
but USCIS opposed it and applied the remarriage bar,
even though INA 204(l) contained no remarriage bar.
Aer several administrative denials, Renison filed
suit in federal district court in May 2012. And nearly
three years later, in Williams v. Sec'y, Dep't Homeland
Sec., No. 13-11270 (Jan. 17, 2014), the Eleventh Circuit
sided with Williams, saying, "e fact that in one
simultaneous legislative act within the same bill
amendment, one section retained a remarriage bar,
and the other section contained no such bar, is clear
evidence that Congress did not intend to impose a
remarriage bar on cases coming under [INA 204(l)]."
In April 2014, Williams finally received her green card.
She looks forward to visiting relatives in Brazil with
the son she shares with her deceased husband.
SHEEBA RAJ is the staff legal editor and reporter for VOICE.
Behind the Case: The Widow Penalty
of INA §204(l)
anks to recent
widow(er)s won't be
denied green cards
just because they