Friday, February 08, 2008

The start of a sad Immigration story ended in an overwhelming and happiness emotion. Thousands of cases like this are out there do to a dysfunctional and bureacratic Immigration system.

A former American soldier's widow, who was facing deportation to Venezuela after her husband was killed while working as a contractor in Iraq, has finally been awarded permanent residency in the United States.

''This is an overwhelming emotion,'' Dahianna Heard said in a telephone interview from her home in Casselberry, near Orlando. ``After so much struggle and suffering, I will finally see the light and build a normal life with my kids.''

Heard, 36, knew that her life would change forever when her husband, Jeffrey Heard, was killed in March 2006. A U.S. military veteran, he was shot in the head during an ambush while working in Iraq for a private security firm.

A short time after learning of her husband's death, Heard was notified by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that both she and her two sons were to be deported because her petition had not been processed before her husband was killed and her marriage had not lasted the minimum two years necessary for her to qualify for permanent status.

The couple would have celebrated their second anniversary in July 2006 -- four months after her husband was killed.

Her youngest son, Bryan Harley Heard, was only 5 months old when he lost his father. Dahianna Heard's 14-year-old son from a previous marriage already has a green card.
In January, El Nuevo Herald reported on the many times Heard's petition for permanent residency had been denied by the USCIS and immigration courts, where such petitions are usually denied based on the two-year rule.

The only exceptions to the rule are the widows and widowers of active U.S. military personnel and the rare cases where the petitions are actually processed before a petitioner dies.
After El Nuevo Herald's report, the USCIS decided to review the case and additional information about Jeffrey Heard's former military service.
As it turned out, he had served in the armed forces for 12 years and received an honorable discharge in 1992. According to his family, he served as a member of the Army Special Forces and the Florida National Guard.
On Thursday, Dahianna Heard was notified that the USCIS had approved the petition her husband had submitted for her permanent residency.
''I am very happy and very grateful,'' said Heard, adding, ``I give thanks to God, to my husband, who from heaven has always been here, to my lawyer and to immigration for having reconsidered my case.''
USCIS Director Emilio González said he decided to reopen the case after reading about Heard's predicament in El Nuevo Herald.
''We interpreted the law by which widows and widowers of armed forces veterans can be considered as active members of the military, so their families can be awarded legal immigration status,
'' said González, who noted that any widow or widower who also fulfills those requirements may qualify for permanent residency.
''The authorities saw that this was a special case because of the circumstances of her husband's death,'' said Heard's lawyer, Ralph Pineda. ``He made the ultimate sacrifice, even though he wasn't wearing a uniform.''
Heard was part of a class-action suit brought against the federal government by 22 widows and widowers who found themselves in similar circumstances
Another 128 widows and widowers have joined the class-action suit.
Brent Renison, an Oregon-based lawyer who presented the case in a Los Angeles court, said that he decided to move forward with the lawsuit for lack of an immigration overhaul. The case is ongoing.
Meanwhile, Heard is getting used to her new life.
''Now I can feel secure,'' she said. ``I'll be able to work, study and even write a book.''

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