Jacqueline Coats - Widow of Man who Died Rescuing Kids at Ocean Beach   

Janine DeFao, Chronicle Staff Writer.

The widow of a man who died while trying to rescue two boys off San Francisco's Ocean Beach on is facing another crisis:

She could be deported to Kenya, in part because her petition for legal residency had not been filed before her husband's death. Jacqueline Coats, 26, came to the Bay Area on a student visa to study mass communications at San Jose State University.

But her visa status lapsed, and on April 6, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency began deportation proceedings against her.

Coats married Marlin Coats on April 17 -- 11 days after the deportation proceedings began.

Her attorney, Thip Ark of San Francisco, said her marriage to Marlin Coats would have guaranteed her legal residency.

However, Marlin Coats died before they filed his new wife's petition for legal residency. Now, Ark says, Jacqueline Coats' chances of winning her deportation fight are weakened.

Marlin Coats, 29, a former lifeguard, apparently drowned Sunday when he was caught in a riptide while helping to rescue 11- and 14-year-old brothers who were struggling in the surf.

Four days earlier, Ark said, Marlin Coats had signed immigration papers stating that he had married his girlfriend of two years, and was seeking permanent residency for her.

"I feel like I have nothing to live for. I have nothing to go home to," Coats said Thursday, fighting back tears, at a news conference at her lawyer's San Francisco office. "I'm established here. I've been here four years .... It would be like starting a new life."

Coats said her visa status lapsed because, while studying at SJSU, she had fallen two credits short one semester after dropping a class that conflicted with reading and math courses she was required to take as an international student.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency declined to reinstate her visa and began the deportation proceedings against her. A hearing is scheduled Aug. 3.

"Her fate is in the hands of an immigration judge," said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for the agency. "He will hear the facts of the case and weigh that against the law."
The fact that deportation proceedings have already begun against Jacqueline Coats "will certainly present a legal challenge for her," Kice said.

Kice said she could not comment further on the case because she could not access Coats' file Thursday afternoon.

Ark said she hopes to get Congress to pass a private bill that would allow Coats to stay.

Jacqueline Muhoro met Marlin Coats, a San Francisco native and cellular phone salesman, in February 2004 when the two spotted each other on the Bay Bridge while driving with friends, she said.

They pulled off at an exit to exchange phone numbers and were dating within a week. They were married at San Francisco City Hall -- Marlin Coats' identical twin brother, Markell, served as a witness -- and then celebrated with dinner and two movies.

The couple lived in San Leandro, and both husband and wife worked and were dreaming of having children soon, family members who attended the news conference said.

While her parents and two siblings remain in Kenya, Jacqueline said her husband's large family has become like her own.

"She spent her first American Christmas with us, her first American Thanksgiving," said Ramona Burton of San Francisco, one of Marlin Coats' seven brothers and sisters. "I can't imagine looking around and not seeing her there. She needs to be there."

Marlin Coats had gone to Ocean Beach with some of his siblings and their children after taking their mother to Chili's for dinner on Mother's Day. They were gathered on the sand when they heard the boys call for help.

"He instinctively took off his shoes and jumped in the water," Burton said of her brother. "We weren't worried because Marlin is an excellent swimmer."

While a rescue crew got the boys to safety, it was too late for Marlin Coats. A ruling by the San Francisco medical examiner on the cause of death is pending.

His family remembered Marlin Coats Thursday as a playful man who loved to roughhouse with his nieces and nephews. His family is asking the boys' family to support their plea to keep Jacqueline Coats in the country.

"We're not angry with them," said Marlin Coats' sister-in-law, Cassandra Coats of Oakland. "This is their time to come forward to help us, since Marlin lost his life trying to help them."

Story by San Francisco Chronicle

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