AMERICAN JUSTICE: INS to deport British widow of man who died in WTC attack
US may expel Briton widowed by bin Laden
By Charles Laurence
A BRITISH mother widowed by the World Trade Centre terrorism is being
threatened with deportation from America as an illegal alien.
Deena Gilbey, 37, lost her husband, Paul, in the inferno of the south tower
on September 11, and with him, according to the Immigration and
Naturalisation Service, she lost her right to live in the United States.
The couple, from Southend-on Sea, Essex, had two sons, Maxwell, seven, and
Mason, three, who were born in America and so are American citizens.
But Mrs Gilbey's legal status in the country was as a "dependent" on her
husband's work visa, and since his visa expired on his death she is
automatically declared illegal.
According to the immigration officers' rulebook, the boys can stay, but she
must go. Just days after her husband's death she was sent an official notice
warning her that her right to live in America was to be withdrawn.
Before receiving the letter, Mrs Gilbey had rung the immigration service to
check on her status, only to be told: "You have none . . . regardless of the
circumstances, you are an illegal alien."
"My husband was murdered in this country, his remains are still there
somewhere at Ground Zero, and now the US government is killing us all over
again," said a shocked Mrs Gilbey yesterday.
On Friday, the family was dealt another astonishing blow when a probate
lawyer told Mrs Gilbey that, because she has no status as either a citizen
or official Green Card immigrant, the Internal Revenue Service will take 60
per cent of her husband's life insurance in tax. If she had been American,
she would pay no tax on her husband's estate.
It threatens her plans to stay in the house in Chatham Township in the green
belt suburbs of New Jersey which the couple bought soon after coming to
America eight years ago. After the taxman has taken 60 per cent, she would
be unable to pay off the mortgage.
Mrs Gilbey said: "The little boys are traumatised and now they want to take
our home from us. We did things properly, so if something happened to Paul I
could bring up the kids in our own home, and now it is going to be
impossible to do that. What are they thinking?"
The story has outraged the local community, however, and there is hope for
the family in a campaign that is demanding that Washington confers instant
citizenship on Mrs Gilbey, even if that means passing a law on Capitol Hill.
Chatham's police chief George Kurzenknabe has even promised that he "will
barricade the house" if immigration officials dare to approach with a
deportation warrant, while the chief of the suburb's volunteer fire brigade
has offered to "sit on the porch with a rifle".
"I think we can say that, in these circumstances, the American people will
simply not allow anyone, including our own government, to disturb or harass
Mrs Gilbey in any way.
"This is a widow who is a beloved member of our community who has not
transgressed in any way at all, and if the letter of the law is wrong, it is
the letter of the law that will go," said Det Sgt George Petersen.
Mr Petersen has taken on the task of guiding Mrs Gilbey through the
immigration maze, escorting her to meetings with INS officers. They
discovered that the problem comes down to a delay in the couple's
application for Green Card status - because the immigration service office
in Newark, New Jersey, lost a sheaf of papers.
"But there is no provision in the law for any safeguard in a situation like
this, and technically Mrs Gilbey has become an illegal alien. So the chief
went to our local senators and made clear to them that he expects them to
put a bill through Congress if that is what it takes," said Mr Petersen.
Last night, as America drew the blinds for the Columbus Day holiday weekend,
it was unclear whether Senators Bob Torricelli and Jon Corzine of New Jersey
were writing a bill for citizenship for Mrs Gilbey and any other affected
widow, or whether it was a bill simply to delay deportation and allow an
"illegal alien" to stay while legal processes are exhausted. Technically,
Mrs Gilbey could be arrested and held in an INS detention centre.
"The people here are absolutely wonderful, but the government is another
story," said Mrs Gilbey. Her family and friends have come up with another
solution: they are calling for Mr Blair, the Prime Minister, to intervene
directly with President Bush.
"Mr Blair and us Brits have stepped up to the plate for America, and now it
is time for the President to step up to the plate for a Brit who is in a
terrible position for no fault of her own," said Mrs Gilbey's mother, Mrs
Berrynice Gould, who has flown to New Jersey to support her daughter.
The Gilbeys came to New York when Mr Gilbey, who was 39, was transferred to
Wall Street by the London brokerage he worked for. That company began the
routine paperwork of sponsoring the Gilbeys for a Green Card, or "permanent
resident alien" status.
But after a year, Mr Gilbey transferred to a new job with EuroBrokers, which
meant that the Green Card application had to be restarted from scratch.
The new job took him to offices on the 84th floor of the south tower of the
World Trade Centre, and he was at work when the first jet struck the north
tower. He telephoned Mrs Gilbey, told her that he was safe and she urged him
to "go, go, go".
He had started to evacuate the tower before the second aircraft had struck
and was told by security guards that there was no threat to their offices
and to return to work.
"Survivors have told me that Paul made it to the 74th floor, where the lifts
were still working. There, with a friend, he helped get women and people in
wheelchairs into the lifts, holding back himself and other men. He insisted
that women and children get to safety first: Paul did the right thing, and
this is the reward for his family."
Mrs Gilbey believes that he must have returned to his office, where he would
have taken a direct hit from the second aircraft.
"We were friends since I was 14 years old, and I am lucky to have had Paul
for so long. And I know he is safe and at peace where he is. But I am
heartbroken for the boys and I want to be able to give them hope. They look
into my face for hope, and what they see is fear because of this."
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