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Murder Verdict Won, Widow Still Fights INS

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With the conviction of her husband’s killer, a tragic chapter in Jasmin Salehi’s life should be drawing to a close.

But the 32-year-old widow, who lost her parents as a teenager and whose husband, Cyrus, was shot to death at a Denny’s restaurant in Reseda in February 1996, still faces anguish and uncertainty.

Federal authorities are seeking to deport Salehi, a South Korean native whose marriage ended short of the two years the Immigration and Naturalization Service requires for legal status.

“People think my immigration matter has been settled,” said Salehi at Van Nuys Superior Court on Monday. “But nothing has changed at all. I’m still under pressure of deportation.”

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Salehi’s case has drawn widespread attention, including from California Sen. Diane Feinstein, who introduced special legislation to grant Salehi citizenship.

“It’s ludicrous that the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service is expending any energy trying to deport a widow of an American citizen,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Shellie Samuels, who prosecuted Cyrus Salehi’s killer. “It’s not like there was a divorce or he died of natural causes. He was murdered. The INS should take that into account and show some compassion.”

INS officials say they allowed Salehi to return to the United States after she attended a memorial service given by his family in Iran in February on the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death.

The agency also agreed to delay Salehi’s voluntary departure until Oct. 1, after the trials of those accused of murdering her husband.

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Still Salehi, who is living in Sherman Oaks, said she feels there has been precious little compassion since her husband was gunned down.

The couple met in 1993. After a two-year courtship, they married. Jasmin said she then tried to apply for residency but was told to return in August 1996 because of a backlog.

In the meantime, Cyrus Salehi had become a part owner of the Denny’s in Reseda. But he was shot and killed after handing over $400 to robbers.

Later that year, during what was to be her first formal interview for a green card, she informed immigration officials of her husband’s slaying. She was told that for a noncitizen spouse to acquire the right of residency in the United States, the marriage to a citizen must last at least two years.

“When your husband died, your case died at the same time,” Salehi said she was told. Now she worries that once her husband’s case fades, so will her chance at citizenship.

A jury Friday took a little more than an hour to convict Canoga Park gang member Reuben Lopez, 20, of murder. He faces 25 years to life in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced April 22 in Superior Court. “He deserved to get that,” said Salehi, who sat though the trial and returned to the courthouse Monday as the trial of a suspected accomplice began.

“It’s not a matter of being pleased or happy about it. I don’t want people out there suffering like me.”


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