Congress moves to revise law to help Maryville Marine’s widow

After a year’s delay, legislation that would allow a young Japanese widow to honor her Marine husband’s wishes and raise their infant son in Tennessee is finally moving through Congress.

The U.S. House voted Monday to close a loophole in federal immigration law so that Hotaru “Hota” Ferschke can move permanently to the United States with her 22-month-old son, Mikey.

Mikey’s father is Marine Sgt. Michael Ferschke of Maryville, who was killed two years ago in Iraq.

The bill, which passed on a voice vote and is called the “Marine Sgt. Michael H. Ferschke Jr. Memorial Act,” still requires approval from the U.S. Senate.

But for Sgt. Ferschke’s parents, Robin and Mike Ferschke, Monday’s action offers a glimmer of hope that the family’s painful ordeal may finally be coming to an end.

“Every day I have hope, but it scares me, too, because every time I get my hopes up, they get shattered,” Robin Ferschke said. “I don’t know how much more we can be shattered.”

U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville and the bill’s sponsor, said plugging the immigration law loophole would straighten out “a tragic and sad situation for a woman and her child.”

“I think everyone sees merit in this,” Duncan said.

Hota Ferschke, a Japanese citizen, was pregnant with Mikey when she married Sgt. Ferschke about a month before his death. The wedding took place by proxy: Sgt. Ferschke was in Iraq, his bride in Japan. They never saw each other again.

Though they had agreed to raise their son in Tennessee, Hota Ferschke cannot move to the United States because their marriage is not recognized under a Cold War-era immigration law.

The law, enacted to prevent foreigners from entering into sham marriages so they could move to the United States, says marriage between an American and a foreign national must be consummated after the wedding before the non-American can gain permanent residency status.

The bill approved Monday would insert language into the law that would keep it from applying in cases when failure to consummate the marriage was caused by “physical separation” of the couple because one of them was on active duty in the armed forces.

The legislation would benefit not only Hota Ferschke but would apply to anyone else who may be in a similar situation. Two previous bills that would have granted permanent residency status to Hota Ferschke stalled because they were so narrowly drafted that they would have applied only to her case.

Though the bill that passed Monday could benefit others, Duncan’s office said it was not aware of anyone else who faces a plight like that of Hota Fershcke.

U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Maryville, and Jim Webb, D-Va., are working to pass the legislation in the Senate, but time is running out. If the measure hasn’t been approved by the time Congress adjourns for the year in December, the bill will die and lawmakers will have to start all over again next year.

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