Under Federal law the spouse of a United States citizen can obtain permanent residency. However, the current policy of the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) automatically denies an immigrant this privilege if their marriage has not existed for two years and their citizen spouse dies before their application has been processed . As a result of this policy, which has been coined the “widow penalty”, many immigrants are being penalized by having their green card applications denied, due to the untimely deaths of their spouses and the lengthy bureaucratic visa processing time of the USCIS. Many of these individuals, who entered the United States legally subsequently find themselves in deportation proceedings.

NYLAG has recently filed a lawsuit challenging this unjust policy on behalf of Irina Gorovets, a Russian immigrant who has been placed in deportation proceedings after the tragic death of her husband due to kidney failure, while her green card application was awaiting approval.