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Senators aid wife of missing soldier

Kerry, Kennedy pressure officials

The state's two US senators came to the aid yesterday of the wife of a missing Lawrence soldier to make sure she is not deported.

While her lawyer has warned she could face deportation, federal officials said yesterday there are no hearings scheduled.

Yaderlin Hiraldo and Army Specialist Alex R. Jimenez met in a small village in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. But the couple fell in love in the United States, after she arrived illegally in 2001.

They married in 2004 and Jimenez, a US citizen who lived in the Dominican Republic as a boy and later moved to New York, tried to obtain permanent legal status for his bride. When federal immigration officials learned she entered the country illegally, however, they started deportation proceedings.

In May 2006, she received a reprieve -- US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agreed to halt the proceedings after her husband had been sent to Iraq. Last month, Jimenez and two other soldiers were abducted by Sunni insurgents. One of the men was found dead, and the insurgent group claimed to have killed Jimenez and the third soldier. The two have not been found, though their Army IDs were discovered last week.

With Hiraldo's status still unresolved, Senators John F. Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy have called on the Department of Homeland Security to let her stay.

"What's changed in the last year in Yaderlin's case is the status of her husband, which tragically could jeopardize her already uncertain status," said Kerry, who believes she should be allowed to stay permanently and sent a letter on her behalf yesterday. "That shouldn't be acceptable to a compassionate government."

Jamie Zuieback , an ICE spokeswoman, said, "ICE has no intention of deporting Mrs. Jimenez."

"The Department of Homeland Security is reviewing the case to determine what legal options might be available to resolve her status," she said.

Hiraldo's lawyer, Matthew Kolken , did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.

For the Jimenez family, the uncertainty has been another grim consequence of the 25-year-old's disappearance.

"I hope everything turns out OK," said Wendy Luzon , a family friend who lives in Lawrence and spoke yesterday with Jimenez's father, Ramon "Andy" Jimenez . "All this is affecting his health. His blood pressure is high. He has been waiting and waiting with no news of his son. This doesn't help."

The Jimenez case is not an isolated one.

Diana Engstrom of Illinois, the wife of an Army contractor, learned she might be deported after her husband, Todd Engstrom, was killed in Iraq in September 2004. Though Engstrom, a native of Kosovo, entered the country legally, her husband died before the government officially recognized him as her sponsor.

In 2005, US Senators Barack Obama and Richard Durbin , both Democrats, filed a private bill that would grant her permanent resident status. Though the bill has not been approved, it may be reintroduced, and the proposed legislation has allowed her to stay. Private bills are usually filed to help specific individuals or companies in unusual circumstances and often deal with immigration.

"We're still in limbo," said Todd Engstrom's mother, Cindy Engstrom , of Athens, Ill. "My hearts go out to the [Jimenez] family. We certainly know the difficulty that they're facing. I'll say some prayers for them."

In a telephone interview, Kerry said he would not file legislation for Jimenez until he heard back from Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security .

Bryan Bender of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com.

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