Irena Morris, known in Second Life as "Eshi Otawara," married a US citizen who died in 2006. She now faces being deported because her husband died before she got her green card.
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Second Life Art Eshi Otawara, the Second Life avatar of Irena Morris, and one of her real-life paintings.
A Second Life artist who goes by the name "Eshi Otawara" faces real-life deportation due to the so-called "widow's penalty" in immigration law.
The artist, whose real-life name is Irena Morris, is a Croatian immigrant who lives in Florida. Her American husband died suddenly, when they'd been married less than two years, while her application for residency was in progress. According to U.S. immigration law, the application is automatically rejected once the American spouse dies. Morris received formal notification from U.S. immigration authorities last week that her application was terminated, and she's ready to be deported from the U.S. at any moment.
"The two years of my life since my husband passed way were one big pot of fear and financial insecurity," Morris said in a telephone interview with InformationWeek. "I lost my house, I lost everything except my cat, my husband's car and the free, open road."
Morris's attorney, Brent Renison of Lake Oswego, Ore., says she is one of an extremely small group of people hit by the widow's penalty. He knows of just 156 cases like Morris's, all clients of his. He's seeking to get a lawsuit certified as a class action suit to overturn the law, and he's also working with Congress to get a new immigration law passed that would let Morris and people like her become residents.
Born in Croatia nearly 28 years ago, she came to the U.S. on a student visa and attended McNeese State University at Lake Charles, La., starting eight years ago. There, she met and married one of her professors, Glenn Morris, 58, after she graduated in 2004.
Hurricanes Rita and Katrina hit, and the Morrises lost a third of their house. Glenn Morris got a new job, working with Volunteers of America on disaster relief. She worked as a housewife.
"On the morning of April 1st 2006, I found him dead in our bed. He stroked out so hard that he did not even manage to move, call me, or knock something over to wake me up," she wrote on her Second Life blog.
Her husband had no known medical problems except a little bit of high blood pressure, she said in a phone interview. The night before he died, they'd fallen asleep together on the couch watching a movie. She vaguely remembers him going to bed. The next morning, she was awakened on the couch by his cell phone ringing. She brought it in to the bedroom for him, where she found his body.
"His eyes were open and his hand was in the air as if he was reaching for the phone," she said. "I kept saying, 'Hey, babe, Glenn, phone.' The phone stopped and I realized what had happened." She added, "It's so surreal to see your husband dead. It's your husband but not your husband. He's not there anymore."
Morris continued to try to become a legal resident of America. Without a work permit, she couldn't get a job, and subsisted on the kindness of friends, and what little money she could make creating art in both Second Life and real life.
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