NEW YORK – The British World Trade Center widow who said the INS was hounding her out of the country finally won the right to stay in the country Thursday.
"This has been a tremendous ordeal for my client, who suffered tremendously since her husband perished trying to help others who had survived," Deena Gilbey’s lawyer, Michael Wildes, said Thursday afternoon. "We’re glad the government finally concluded this matter."
Gilbey, whose husband, Paul, died while rescuing others in the burning towers, has been trapped in a state of legal limbo ever since the tragedy. Because she was in the U.S. on Paul’s work visa, her legal right to stay in the U.S. ended when he died. Only days after the attacks, and still in mourning, she received a letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service that she had become an illegal alien overnight. Things were complicated by the fact that the Gilbeys, who had lived in New Jersey for eight years, had two young American-born sons who were citizens.
An INS spokesman later explained that, though her legal status remained nebulous, Gilbey would not be deported. But there would be restrictions – she would have to inform INS if she left the country so that she could be certain she could get back in, for example.
But Gilbey wanted more.
"That assurance was never good enough for my client, who had American-born sons and, as she searched for the remains of her husband, wondered where she would bury him," Wildes said.
Gilbey’s case reached well-placed ears. New Jersey Sens. Robert Torricelli and Jon Corzine both proposed legislation that would have granted her citizenship. Local newspapers touted her cause. Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair pleaded her case.
Thursday, the appeals finally proved not to have been in vain. Under the Patriot Act, Gilbey was granted a green card offering permanent U.S. residency after an INS meeting in Newark, N.J. She immediately won back her rights to travel and work in the U.S.
"The first thing she did was she went home and hugged her children," Wildes said.
In five years, he noted, she is eligible to apply for American citizenship.
"And she very well intends to do that," Wildes said.