Lawmakers: Widow of man who died saving others should stay in US

First, Jacqueline Coats lost her husband when he dove into a fierce Pacific Ocean riptide to rescue two boys. Now Coats, an immigrant from Kenya, might be forced to leave the United States, in spite of legislators' efforts on her behalf.
Her husband died in May 2006 before he filed her residency application. If a private bill filed in January asking the U.S. Congress to grant her legal status fails, she will be deported, said state assembly members who have launched an electronic petition in support of the immigrant.
"It is an outrage and an injustice to the memory of this courageous hero that his wife should suffer the loss of family and livelihood once again," said Assembly members Mary Hayashi, who sponsored the petition along with fellow Democrats Joe Coto and Mervyn Dymally.
Attorneys agree that in such cases, their hands are tied by current immigration law, which voids residency applications if the American citizen entering the petition for their foreign-born spouse dies before it is adjudicated. If the couple has been married for more than two years, and the application is pending, the foreign-born spouse can reapply, attorneys said.
But in the Coats' case, the application had not even been filed.
"The bottom line is, Ms. Coats did not even have a visa petition pending when her husband died," Virginia Kice, spokeswoman with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "Even if a visa petition is pending and a petitioner dies, the petition dies with him."
An Oregon attorney who has represented scores of immigrants whose applications for residency were voided after the death of their American spouse said he's suing this week in federal court and seeking class-action status to close this legal gap.
"A lot of these people have exhausted their resources, have been denied work permits, driver's licenses, a regular life," said attorney Brent Renison. "The ironic thing is that if they just remarried, they could reapply. But outside of that, they don't have any other options."
For now, the only hope for Jacqueline Coats lies with the private bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said the woman's lawyer, Thip Ark.
Jacqueline Coats first came to U.S. in 2001 to attend San Jose State University. During her stay, she met Marlin Coats _ a dependable, family oriented man who wooed her with flowers and his flair for comedy, she said.
A week later, they were dating. Two years later, they married, with Marlin Coats' twin brother standing acting as a witness.
Her husband's large family _ he had seven siblings, some of them married with children _ became like her own, Jacqueline Coats said. They celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving together, and grew to rely on each other.
"They're my family here," she said.
But while she was a student, she lost her legal immigration status. She had come on a student visa, which requires a full-time schedule. When time conflicts between classes left her three units short, immigration officials were notified.
"These cases are being monitored more closely" after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said Kice.
Deportation proceedings began 11 days before her wedding, Jacqueline Coats said.
After they wed, attorneys advised Marlin Coats, a U.S. citizen, to enter a petition for residency in his wife's name. Although her immigration status had lapsed, she'd entered legally, so nothing prevented her from staying.
The papers were signed and ready to go when Marlin Coats and his siblings took their mom out a restaurant then to San Francisco's Ocean Beach to celebrate Mother's Day last year.
Marlin Coats was on the sand when he heard two children screaming from the chilly water. He was a great swimmer and a former lifeguard, so his family didn't worry when he kicked off his shoes and dove in. But the currents were fierce. A rescue crew got to the two boys, but it was too late for Marlin Coats.
Since his death, Marlin Coats has been recognized for his bravery. He was awarded one of the U.S. Coast Guard's highest honors, the Gold Lifesaving Medal earlier this month.
And private proposals, like the one for Coats, do not have a promising track record.
In the last six years, 495 private U.S. Congressional bills were introduced, and only 36 were approved.
Although her parents and siblings live in Kenya, Jacqueline Coats feels she has no future there _ no prospects of a career, no contact with her husband's family.
"I'm can't feel settled if I don't know where I'm going to be two or three months from now," Coats said. "I don't know what my future holds, and I won't know until I have a green card in my hands."
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Updated : 2021-01-28 21:20 GMT+08:00