It’s not over yet.
Robin Ferschke’s two-year battle to move her widowed daughter-in-law and 22-month-old grandson from Japan to East Tennessee headed toward a final resolution on Wednesday when the U.S. House voted to grant permanent residency status to the young woman, Hotaru “Hota” Ferschke.
But there are still several hurdles to cross before Hota Ferschke and her son, Mikey, can leave Japan for a new life in Maryville with the parents of her husband, Marine Sgt. Michael Ferschke, who was killed in Iraq.
President Barack Obama still must sign the bill into law. The White House did not respond Wednesday to inquiries about whether he intends to do so.
Once the bill becomes law, Hota Ferschke then must fill out immigration paperwork. She’ll also need time to close out the life she has made for herself and her son in Japan, Robin Ferschke said.
“She’s not one to jump into a situation,” the mother-in-law said. “I’m sure she’ll want to make sure she can find a job and establish herself, because she’s a worker. She’s a single mom who wants to work and provide for her son.”
Yet even with so much left to do, an emotional Robin Ferschke allowed herself a few moments of cautious celebration after the House approved the legislation on her daughter-in-law’s behalf.
“I’m in tears right now,” she said shortly after the vote. “I’m so truly grateful, so grateful, that somebody realized that this was, and is, a personal tragedy. And I’m so grateful because now I feel my son is honored. That was important - keeping my promise to my son and to keep his honor.”
It was a promise that took two years to keep.
Robin Ferschke began pushing Congress to allow her daughter-in-law and grandson to move to East Tennessee just a few months after her son was killed in a hail of bullets in Iraq on Aug. 10, 2008.
Sgt. Ferschke had met Hota while he was stationed in Okinawa, and they dated for more than a year before he was sent to Iraq. Shortly before his death, Hota discovered she was pregnant. The couple married over the telephone - Sgt. Ferschke was in Iraq, his bride in Japan - and agreed to raise their son in East Tennessee. They never saw each other again.
Upon her husband’s death, Hota Ferschke was prohibited from moving permanently to the United States because their marriage was not recognized under a Cold War-era immigration law.
The law dictates that marriage between an American citizen and a foreign national must be consummated after the wedding before the non-American can gain permanent residency status. The measure was enacted to stop foreigners from entering into sham marriages so they could gain permanent residency in the United States.
U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan, R-Knoxville, stepped in and offered to help. Duncan filed a “private” bill that makes Hota Ferschke eligible for permanent residency but does not apply to anyone else. Duncan also filed a separate, broader bill that would bar the immigration law’s consummation requirement from applying in certain cases.
The broader measure passed the House in November but stalled in the Senate, which eventually passed its own “private” bill to benefit Hota Ferschke. That bill, in turn, ran into trouble in the House when U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, insisted it be vetted by a committee, appearing to doom its chances of passage this year.
With just days left before Congress adjourns for the year, Duncan used House rules to get around Sensenbrenner’s objections. The Senate had inserted standard language into the bill indicating it would not impact the federal budget. The addition of that language meant that, under House rules, the measure was technically no longer a “private” bill and could not be blocked by a single lawmaker.
Duncan used that loophole to call for a vote on the bill, and it passed without objection.
“This is something that I think everyone has wanted to support all through this process, and it is a great moment for this family,” Duncan said from the House floor.
Robin Ferschke said she’s grateful Congress voted to help her daughter-in-law, but she will continue to push for passage of the broader immigration bill so that no one else will have to go through what her family has endured.
“This is never going to happen, if I can help it, to another family - ever - because of this law,” she said. “I can’t change everything. But if I can change this, I will.”