(CN) - A Jamaican widow is not automatically eligible to stay in the United States, because her American spouse died in a Staten Island ferry crash less than two years after the wedding, the 3rd Circuit ruled in a case of first impression.
The lower court had determined that Osserritta Robinson's status as the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen did not change with her husband's death in 2003.
The federal appeals court in Philadelphia reversed the decision, saying time was the key.
Robinson focused on the fact that she was a legal spouse when her husband filed for her to become a legal permanent resident.
The government argued that a spouse remains an immediate relative after the death of his or her spouse only if the couple had been married for two years at the time of the citizen's death.
Judge Sloviter said the law determines a spouse's status based on the circumstances when the U.S. Department of Citizen and Immigration Services rules on the case.
"The district court believed that the fact that the statute is written in the present tense is not particularly significant, but we disagree," Sloviter wrote. "Eligibility at the time of filing is a necessary condition for the grant of a petition; it does not establish that eligibility at that time is sufficient if the citizen spouse dies before the adjudication."
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