Monday, December 10, 2007
After 29 Years In Portland, Woman May Be Deported Under 'Widow's Penalty'
This is where I want to be. This has been my home for 29 years. After years of serving the community, I'm being thrown out like a piece of garbage.
PORTLAND, OR Canadian immigrant Rose-Marie Barbeau-Quinn faces deportation. She's lived and worked in Portland for the last 29 years, but a little known immigration law says surviving spouses of U.S. citizens must leave the country if they were not married for at least two years..
Rose-Marie Barbeau-Quinn's house in Southwest Portland is filled to the brim with antique musical instruments, books, paintings, and cooking tools that cover the walls of her kitchen.Rose-Marie Barbeau-Quinn: "Well, you're looking at a humungous collection of every possible copper pot and pan. But if I have to lose all this and leave and leave my home I mean, how can anyone do this to a person when they have the choice to do the right thing."But officials at ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- formerly one part of the old INS -- say they have no choice under immigration law but to deport Barbeau-Quinn to her native Canada. In most cases, immigrant spouses of U.S. Citizens get citizenship themselves as long as they can prove the marriage has lasted longer than two years. But Mike Quinn, died of cancer in 1991. And even though they were together for 25 years, Barbeau-Quinn says her husband didn't believe in marriage.Rose-Marie Barbeau-Quinn: "My husband loved me too much to marry me. To him, the word marriage meant problem divorce. And his idea was, we love each other, we share everything, always have, why change it?"Nonetheless hours before Mike Quinn died, they did get married. Some states, such as Washington, recognize 25-year-relationships as a common law marriage. But Oregon does not. Rose-Marie Barbeau-Quinn: "I fell between the cracks."Barbeau-Quinn's case is not unique. Portland attorney Brent Renison says he found 30 similar surviving spouses across the nation. One in Illinois is the wife of Todd Engstrom, an American contractor killed in Iraq while he was training Iraqi security forces. And last month, Renison argued before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of another woman, Carla Freeman, who was deported to her native South Africa, after her American husband died.Renison says the two years of marriage requirement is unfair. Brent Renison: "Anyone who's married at some point was married less than two years. Does it make it any less than a valid marriage?"Renison says after 9/11, Congress made an exception for widows of those killed in the terrorist attacks. A bill to give safe harbor to surviving spouses of those killed by Hurricane Katrina is currently pending in the U.S. Senate. Brent Renison: "I applaud the legislators for fixing the problem for those cases, but you can't lose sight of everyone else."Rose-Marie Barbeau-Quinn's case had been in hold since the 1990s because she's had some influential advocates. The restaurant she and her husband owned, the Vat and Tonser was a favorite of downtown attorneys and powerbrokers. Former Senator Mark Hatfield and later Ron Wyden sponsored private relief bills on her behalf, which staved off deportation. But special treatment for immigrants like Barbeau-Quinn is controversial, especially when scores of other potential deportees have similarly compelling stories. Failing any further intervention, Barbeau-Quinn says she will leave on her own before immigrant officers come to force her out on October 31st.Rose-Marie Barbeau-Quinn: "I don't want to get into any trouble. I've never been in trouble. And I certainly don't intend to cause any now. I'm not a criminal and I don't want to act like one. You know, there's no point in that."Barbeau-Quinn's attorney Brent Renison is currently trying a last ditch -- and novel -- tactic, of asking a federal judge to hear a request from Mike Quinn's estate -- in effect, allowing him to advocate for his wife from the grave. If the effort fails, Barbeau-Quinn will have to start a new life -- at the age of 66 -- in northern Ontario -- a place she's not lived for 40 years.Rose-Marie Barbeau-Quinn: "This is where I want to be. This has been my home for 29 years. After years of serving the community, I'm being thrown out like a piece of garbage."As Barbeau-Quinn packs her things to leave, the U.S. Senate is considering broad immigration reform bill -- sponsored by Arizona Republican John McCain and Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy. It includes a provision to wipe out what attorney Brent Renison calls the widow's penalty .