Immigrant Widows Left In Limbo

Once On A Path To Permanent Residency, Some Widows Of Americans Face Deportation

CBS All Access
This video is available on CBS All Access

This story was first published on Nov. 23, 2008. It was updated on June 10, 2009.

Everybody loves a love story - everybody it seems, except the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In our post-9/11 world, immigration has become increasingly tough on, of all groups, widows.

A foreigner who marries a U.S. citizen is entitled to become a U.S. resident.

But Immigration has been trying to deport several hundred widows and a few widowers - foreigners who had been married to American citizens when the Americans died.

As 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon reported last fall, Immigration has claimed that if the widow did not complete the process to become a U.S. resident while her husband was alive, she cannot remain in the country.

The Obama administration inherited this policy and just last week came up with a possible solution.

Raquel Williams, a young nursing student from Brazil, was visiting Florida when, one night, she and three girl friends drove into a gas station. They caught the eye of a car full of guys who were also getting gas.

"I guess they noticed that we were, you know, not from here," Raquel remembers, recalling when she first met her future husband. "Well, they're like, 'Oh, Where you guys from?' You know? 'Oh, my name's is Derek. Nice to meeting you.'"

That chance meeting with Derek Williams led to love, marriage, and eventually parenthood. Two years after they met, their son Ian was born.

But then the unthinkable happened.

"I woke up 4:30 in the morning, 5:00 and to find my husband laying on the couch. I could see that something's wrong. Get closer. And he's not breathing. And called 911 and they stay on the phone with me. And then I hear that they coming. And I said, 'Please, please. Oh, come fast. Fast.' And it was, he was, he was gone by that time," Raquel remembers.

Derek had insomnia, so he'd watch TV on their couch during the night. But he also had breathing problems and an irregular heartbeat, which proved fatal. After he died, Raquel and her son Ian moved in with Derek's parents, and three months after Derek died, Raquel finally had the immigration interview that she had been asking for for a year - the interview to prove that her marriage was legitimate.

She went to the interview with Ian, and brought all the documentation needed to prove she had been married to Derek; she also brought the death certificate.

"And I explained what happened. 'My husband pass away. What can I do from now? This is his death certificate,'" she remembers. "'Oh, your case, your case is gonna be denied.'"

"And they said, 'You're gonna have to go back to Brazil.' And I said, 'I have my son. You know? This is my son. He's American citizen.' And they said that, 'You can go. He can stay.'"

Ian was five months old at the time.