January 27, 2009

Fallen Marine's Widow & Son Denied Visas

Article published Jan 21, 2009

Fallen Marine's widow faces new immigration hurdle
By Robert Norris
of The Daily Times Staff

The immigration saga continues for Hotaru Ferschke, widow of Sgt. Michael H. Ferschke Jr., the Maryville Marine killed in action Aug. 10 while serving in Iraq.

Because of a Korean War-era provision, she is not considered married under immigration law and cannot obtain a "green card" that would allow her to live in the United States.

Initially, the Japanese woman sought permanent residence so she could come to Blount County for the birth of the couple's son and raise him here with her in-laws.

Problem: The Japanese woman's visa was denied by U.S. immigration officials because the couple had not been married for two years before the sergeant's death, according to Sgt. Ferschke's mother, Robin Ferschke.

With the assistance of U.S. legislators, Hotaru Ferskche was granted a temporary visa, but the approval came too close to the baby's due date for her to feel comfortable flying to the U.S. for the birth.

On Jan. 9, Michael H. "Mikey" Ferscke III was born near Kadena Air Base in Okinawa.

New problem: The couple were married by proxy while he was stationed in Iraq. A stand-in represented the sergeant at the ceremony in Japan. Sgt. Ferschke was killed in combat before the marriage was consummated, invalidating Hotaru as a "spouse" under immigration law.

"They are married in everyone else's eyes except for immigration purposes," Robin Ferschke said.

The only way around the law is for Congress to pass a private bill to legalize the marriage despite immigration law -- not a routine matter.

"We have to get a lot of people to get involved -- get people to send letters to congressmen and senators. We also have to prove personal hardship -- what it would do to us, to her and to her child," Robin Ferschke said.

She said all the members of Tennessee's U.S. congressional delegation she has contacted have agreed to help, including Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. and Sen. Lamar Alexander, both Republicans.

Jonathan Griswold, legislative assistant to Duncan, is working to get a private act passed by the House.

"In this case, her son's marriage is recognized as a true, loving relationship," Griswold said.

The assistant to Duncan said he believes Democrats will cooperate. "We've been in contact with the majority on the committee," he said.

That's the Committee on the Judiciary-Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law.

Robin Ferschke met personally with Duncan in December. That is one of the requirements. Now she has a quite a bit of paperwork to do here, and Hotaru Ferschke has to do the same in Japan. Then the committee's staff can write up the bill.

A side issue is the status of Mikey's citizenship, since he was not born on U.S. soil. Griswold said he believes that can be worked out.

"I feel confident. There's been assurances from the State Department that as long as all the bureaucratic T's are crossed, his citizenship is assured of being U.S.," he said. "Again, consular officials have assured our office they will assist with filling out the forms."

Robin Ferschke said she plans to fly to Japan in February and bring back her grandson along with her daughter-in-law on a temporary visa.

"We love Hotaru like a daughter. We talk every day, whether by e-mail or phone. She supports us in every way," Robin Ferschke said.

"She's such a wonderful girl and so very strong. My son would be very proud."

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