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Should heroic death of a spouse automatically garantee permanent residency? Discus

Posted by African Press International on September 8, 2007

Publication Date: 9/7/2007

A Kenyan woman whose American husband died heroically is fighting immigration officials attempts to deport her from the United States.

Ms Jacqueline Coats, who once worked at Nation TV , lost her husband, Mr Marlin Coats, in May 2006. He drowned off the coast of California while trying to rescue two boys.

Mr and Mrs Coats in happier times. There is no let-up in trouble for Jacqueline who drowned on Sunday while rescuing two boys at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Formerly Jacqueline Muhoro, from Muranga in Central Province, she now faces deportation to Kenya after her husbands death. Photos/ THE CHRONICLE

Mr Coats had been dining with his mother at a seaside restaurant in San Francisco on Mothers Day when he heard the boys screaming for help.

A former lifeguard, he immediately plunged into the turbulent Pacific Ocean in a bid to save the children but in vain. A rescue crew eventually saved the boys but could not reach Mr Coats in time.

He has been memorialised by the US Coast Guard, which last month posthumously awarded him one of its highest honours, the Gold Lifesaving Medal.

Despite this, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is trying to send Ms Coats back to Kenya.

It is an outrage and an injustice to the memory of this courageous hero that his wife should suffer the loss of family and livelihood once again, says Mary Hayashi, a member of the California Legislature who is circulating a petition in support of Ms Coats efforts to remain in the US.

The former Jacqueline Muhoro, from Muranga in Central Province, had entered the US on a student visa in 2001. She studied mass communications at San Jose State University in California.

She had earlier attended the Kenya Institute of Mass Communications while working as an assistant producer for the Nation TV show Up Close and Candid.

Ms Coats says she never got to live independently in Kenya, and has made a life for herself in the United States. She currently works as a bus dispatcher for a county transportation agency in California.

My friends and parts of my family are here now, Ms Coats adds. This is where my life is.

She says she remains close to her husbands siblings and parents.

The former Ms Muhoro, now 27, married Mr Coats in 2004.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Jacqueline Muhoro met Marlin Coats, a San Francisco native and cellular phone salesman, in February 2004 when the two spotted each other on the Bay Bridge while driving with friends.

Months later, they were married at San Francisco City Hall Marlin Coats identical twin brother, Markell, served as a witness.

Dream of children

The couple lived in San Leandro, and both husband and wife worked and were dreaming of having children soon.

While her parents and two siblings remain in Kenya, Jacqueline said her husbands large family has become like her own.

At the time of Mr Coats death, he was preparing to file an application for permanent residency status for his wife because she is no longer covered by her US student visa.

Another online magazine, the Socialist Worker stated that immediately after their marriage, Mr Coats, signed a petition stating that he and Jacqueline were married and that she was seeking permanent residency.

Although they were married a week after the ICE deportation hearings began, the petition should have protected her, says the magazine. But the petition was never filed.

Ms Muhoro told Socialist Worker: We had signed everything [but] the immigration office didnt have the documents with them at the time [of Marlins death]. We were putting everything together that they needed instead of going back and forth. We were in the process of meeting the lawyer to submit everything.

She added, My life has suddenly taken a twist. Four months ago, I never thought it would be like this. Before Marlin passed away, I was so happy.

Ms Coats lost her student status when she dropped three credits under a full-time course load, after dropping a class that conflicted with courses required of international students.

I actually applied for reinstatement and explained to them why I fell out of status, and they denied my reinstatement, she said.

And she described the particular challenges faced by students from African countries seeking to study in the US.

You could be accepted to a very good college, and they could say, We dont think your parents have enough money, so you cant come, she told the online magazine.

Ms Coats, her lawyer and her union, ATU Local 192, are hoping California legislators will help pass a private Bill that would allow her to stay in the US.

The Bill filed by US Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, is asking the US Congress to normalise Ms Coats immigration status.

Bills seeking to assist specific individuals generally have slim chances of success. In the past six years, the US Congress approved only 36 of 495 private Bills that lawmakers had introduced. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors as well as the San Francisco and Alameda Labor Councils have come out in support of her.

Organisers of a rally planned before her hearing at the San Francisco ICE office on September 28 say that building a visible public support and pressure for her case is the best chance for allowing her and millions more like her who have built their lives in the US, to be able to stay legally.

Speaking later on to the Nation from the US, Ms Coats vowed never to give up until her quest for permanent residence was granted.

She appealed to the US Congress to pass the private members Bill. I hope that they will grant me the green card which guarantees me permanent residence in this country because this is where I belong now, she told the Nation.

Lifted and published by Korir,API*APN tel +47 932 99 739 or +47 6300 2525

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