The case of Raquel Williams illustrates the way an insane bureaucracy can change rational, thinking men into lock-stepping foot-soldiers of fascism.
Raquel is a Brazilian woman who married an American man, Derek Williams, while she was studying in Florida to be a nurse. They had a son together, and she applied for permanent residence in the US – a green card. The process typically takes over a year, but spouses of American citizens are virtually guaranteed approval, as long as the marriage is valid – that is, not a fraud.
But one night Derek died in his sleep. He had respiratory problems and an irregular heartbeat. Raquel and the baby moved in with Derek’s parents for support. Three months later, when Raquel showed up for her interview with immigration officials bearing her infant son and her husband’s death certificate, she was denied residence because she no longer met the legal definition of “spouse.”
The US government told this woman that, while her son could stay in America (he is a US citizen by birth), she would be deported back to Brazil. Without so much as looking at the details of her case, our wise leaders would separate a mother from her child.
This is called the “Widow Penalty,” and I learned about it from a fantastic report from Bob Simon of 60 Minutes. Another case he details in his story involves the widow of a US soldier killed by an RPG attack in Iraq. Because Diana Engstrom hadn’t had her immigration interview before her husband died for his country, she faces deportation to her native Kosovo. This is how we reward those who volunteer to fight our wars for us?
Since the DHS refused to comment, Simon went to a press conference held by Michael Chertoff, its chief. Chertoff gave a perfect bureaucratic answer when Simon asked him why the US was trying to deport these women: “I think the lawyers have an obligation to pursue the matter through the system until we get a final resolution from the courts.”
Not letting him off the hook, Simon pointed out that four courts had ruled against DHS in their persecution of the widows. “And your department appeals the cases every time.” Why can’t they accept the rulings and let these women live in peace? Listen to the words of a true fascist:
“I think what you’re seeing is a normal part of responsible lawyering,” says Chertoff.
Responsible lawyering? Responsibility would be accepting the decisions of the courts and admitting that these women aren’t getting a fair deal from the government. They deserve to have their cases heard by immigration officials – not roundly denied based on aggressively narrow and legalistic semantics. Chertoff knows that with one word he could have the cases against these women dropped. He has the power to restore justice with a single phone call. But because of his perverse sense of responsibility, he won’t do it. His boss, President Bush, is equally to blame.
The beauty and power of the American system at its best is that people can organize and work together to effect change. Surviving Spouses Against Deportation is an example. They are working against the mindless drones of the DHS by publishing the stories of these women, and organizing legal efforts on their behalf. There is a class-action suit pending in the Ninth Circuit Court, and given the liberal bent of that institution we can expect them to come down against the Leviathan – whom we can expect in turn to appeal to the Supreme Court. That’s likely where this matter will be settled. Here’s hoping it’s settled justly.