Eleanor Palisoc's hopes were realized Thursday when immigration officials notified the young Navy widow that they are invoking a rarely used measure to stop her return to the Philippines and allow her to remain in this country indefinitely.
In an emotional press conference attended by Palisoc, her two U. S.-born children and her in-laws, Immigration and Naturalization Service officials told the 28-year-old woman she has been granted "deferred action" and allowed to continue living and working in the United States.
As Palisoc and her family sobbed quietly, INS District Director James Turnage called the action "an unusual remedy" and noted that it would not have occurred were it not for Daniel Palisoc's untimely death in a traffic accident March 8, one day after the birth of the couple's daughter.
"The measure is so rare it's been invoked in only a handful of cases in the past few years in the San Diego district office," said acting INS Western Regional Commissioner Robert Moschorak, who also attended the press conference. Turnage said that Palisoc is only the fifth person ever granted deferred action by the San Diego office.
INS Said She Must Leave
Palisoc's plight received national attention in April--less than a month after her husband's death--when INS officials notified her that she would have to return to the Philippines because she and her husband did not have immigration status. Daniel Palisoc was one of thousands of Filipino sailors who enlisted in the Philippines under a little-known federal law without first being required to obtain permanent residency from the INS.
Several Navy officials and politicians joined the local Filipino community in rallying around Palisoc. Capt. John C. Ruff, Daniel Palisoc's former commanding officer, and Capt. C. A. Hoyt, who is Palisoc's supervisor at the Navy Resale & Services Support Center, where she works as an audit clerk, wrote letters to the INS asking the agency to allow her to remain in the United States.
"I know there are lots of people behind this and I thank everybody who has shown their concern and taken action on our behalf," said Palisoc on Thursday. "This has been the dream of my husband and me, to be able to raise our kids here."
"I don't have any long-range plans," she added. "I will take each day at a time and will continue to work and raise my children."
Former INS Western Regional Commissioner Harold Ezell, who expressed support for Palisoc before his departure earlier this month, said Thursday he was pleased by the decision. "It was a heart-rending kind of story that shows the INS has a heart. . . . I'm glad we were able to do something about it," Ezell said.
However, three weeks after her husband's death, Palisoc's future was threatened when the local INS office sent her a letter that began abruptly:
"In accordance with a decision made in your case you are required to depart from the United States at your own expense on or before Sept. 24, 1989."
Sold Her House
A frightened and confused Palisoc sold her house and expected the worst. Eventually, Turnage, whose office was initially pushing for her departure, relented and recommended to Moschorak that Palisoc be allowed to stay in the United States.
On Thursday, Turnage said the letter was based "on a strict reading of the law" that said her status as a Navy wife ended with the death of her husband. "But, from the outset, we saw so many compelling humanitarian considerations . . . we knew we were going to find reasons to allow her to stay," Turnage said.
Some local congressmen offered to introduce private bills to allow Palisoc to remain in this country, "but that was so iffy," Turnage said. In the end, INS officials decided that deferred action was the best solution for Palisoc, he added.
Under deferred action, INS officials will do a pro-forma review of Palisoc's case every two years. Unless she marries a U. S. citizen and becomes naturalized, Palisoc, who has lived in San Diego five years, will be able to apply for permanent residency in two years. Five years after obtaining permanent residency, she will be able to file for naturalization.
Barring those options, either of Palisoc's two children will be able to petition for her naturalization when they turn 21. Palisoc's son, Nathan, is 4, and Audrey is 4 months.
Daniel Palisoc served eight years in the Navy before his death. Normally, aliens can enlist in the U. S. armed services only after obtaining permanent residency status. However, an obscure law allows Filipinos to enlist in the U.S. Navy in their homeland without first obtaining permanent residency.
Other aliens can become naturalized after serving honorably in the armed forces for three years. But, under the almost century-old law, Filipinos can become citizens only if the United States goes to war while they are on active duty.