WASHINGTON - Surviving immigrant spouses of U.S. citizens who die before they have been married two years will get a break from deportation, the Homeland Security Department said yesterday.

The department said it was suspending for two years enforcement of the so-called widow penalty, which has triggered several lawsuits.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a news release that the suspension would allow immigrant widows and widowers and their children to stay in the country "that has become their home" until their legal status is resolved.

Brent Renison, a Portland, Ore., lawyer who represents several surviving spouses challenging the law, estimates the change will affect more than 200 people, mostly women, about a quarter of whom have children.

Under the suspended enforcement, the department will reconsider residency that was revoked after a citizen spouse died. It also will not hold up applications for residency and visas that were being reevaluated because of a citizen spouse's death.

Last month, a California federal judge ruled that Homeland Security could not deny widows' applications for residency or visas because the department had not processed the paperwork before their spouses died. The judge ordered Homeland Security to reopen dozens of cases.

The department said legislation would be needed to permanently fix the law.