He died defending our country and now we're going to deport his widow

Yesterday’s Miami Herald had an article on Dahianna Heard, widow of Jeffrey Heard. Heard who spent 12 years in the Army, was killed in Iraq while working as a contractor there.

Because of ‘The Widow Penalty’, Dahianna faces deportation because she wasn’t married to Jeffrey the required two years at the time of his death. Caught in the middle of this insanity is Bryan Harley Heard, Jeffrey’s and Dahianna’s son. If Mrs. Heard is deported, Bryan will be leaving with his mother.

This is all insane. I blogged about the Widow Penalty here at Wizbang in this post. At present Mrs. Heard’s deportation is on hold, but even the threat is a travesty. Her husband died for this country so we can deport his widow. What is just about that?

I’m putting the Miami Herald article below the fold. This is a minor error, the widows who are immigration limbo aren’t in the thousands but hundreds.

Full disclosure- I’ve been in email contact with Ralph Pineda, Mrs. Heard’s attorney, but not since May 07. This posting was in no way made at his or Dahianna’s request.

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Dahianna Heard’s life changed forever when she heard the doorbell ring and learned that her husband, a security contractor in Iraq working with American troops, had been shot in the head and killed in an ambush.

‘When I saw them and they told me, `We’re very sorry,’ I knew he had been killed. It was horrible. I went crazy,” Heard, a native of Venezuela, said, recalling that March 2006 day.

A few months later, the nightmare got worse when immigration officials said that she, along with her two kids, faced deportation. The reason: The couple hadn’t been married for at least two years, which was necessary for Heard to obtain permanent U.S. resident status.

The couple would be celebrating their second wedding anniversary on July 2006, four months after Jeffrey Heard’s death at age 42. The couple’s son, Bryan Harley Heard, was only 5 months old when his father died. The widow has a 14-year-old son, a permanent resident, from a previous marriage, but the kids would have to leave the country with their mother, who cares for them.

”It is unfair,” said Dahianna Heard, 36, from her Casselberry house, near Orlando. “My son was born here. My husband was buried here, and I want my son to be able to see him.”

Immigration administrators declined to comment, citing privacy reasons.

Heard is possibly one of thousands of immigrant widows and widowers in the United States who are in an immigration limbo after the death of their American spouses before their petition process has ended, which would grant them a ”green card” or a permanent residence.

Under the law, for a citizen to petition their foreign spouse, the couple has to be married at least two years. The USCIS, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, generally denies applications of foreigners if their American spouses die before they reach the minimum time required. Exceptions include widows or widowers of active military personnel and applications that had been approved before the citizen’s death.

Heard received her first notification about her case two months after the death of her husband.

”In May, I got the immigration letter, a letter we both had to sign, and there I realized I could have problems,” Heard said. She requested the help of lawyer Ralph Pineda, who accompanied her to meet with USCIS administrators.

Her petition was turned down, and her lawyer appealed the case. Now, USCIS is considering reopening the case if Pineda can prove that Heard served in the U.S. Army before his death and died in combat.

”What’s really unfair is that if Jeffrey had been an active military, or if they had been married a few months more, they would have given it a special consideration,” Pineda told El Nuevo Herald. “We hope they open the file, reevaluate the situation and reconsider the case.”

Pineda is in the process of gathering all the information related to Jeffrey Heard’s military service. His family says he was part of the Army’s Special Forces unit and the Florida National Guard. Heard served a total of 12 years in the Army and got an honorable discharge in 1992.

When he left the military, Heard became a security contractor for the armed forces in anti-drug operations. In 2003, Heard left for Iraq as part of his job.

According to a press release about Heard’s death given by SOC-SMG, the company he worked for, Heard was part of the security personnel who transported provisions from Baghdad to Fallujah. The unit was ambushed. Heard died at the scene; two of his colleagues were injured.

”Jeff’s family is in shock that our country wants to deport a member of our family,” said Cathie Baisley, Jeffrey Heard’s mother. “It is unfair, preposterous and unacceptable.”

Baisley, who lives in Arizona, started a campaign to try to prevent the deportation of her daughter-in-law and her grandsons. They frequently visit them and have sent letters to legislators to raise awareness of the case.

”If my son hadn’t died defending his country, he and Dahianna would still be married and there wouldn’t be any problem,” Baisley said.

If Heard is deported, the future of her two sons is uncertain.

Dahianna Heard is part of a civil case against the federal government consisting of some 80 widows who are in a similar situation. They call it the ”widow’s penalty.” Brent Renison, an Oregon lawyer who represents the widows, said he sued because the federal government has failed to reform its immigration policy on the issue.

A hearing is scheduled later this month.

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