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Immigration law aimed at troops' foreign spouses passes House

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — An amendment to a federal immigration law geared to help U.S. servicemembers who marry foreigners passed the House of Representatives on Monday.

The bill was crafted in response to the case of Hotaru Ferschke, a Japanese woman whose U.S. Marine husband was killed in Iraq. Ferschke has been unable to immigrate to the United States to raise their son. This bill would exempt those married to American troops from having to consummate their marriages to qualify for U.S. residency, the first step in gaining U.S. citizenship.

Hotaru and Michael Ferschke met while he was stationed on Okinawa, and got married by phone in July 2008 after he deployed and the couple discovered they were expecting a child. A month later, the 22-year-old Marine was killed while conducting door-to-door searches in a town north of Baghdad.

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The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the U.S. immigration process, denied Hotaru Ferschke’s paperwork to immigrate to the States, saying the couple was not legally married under U.S. law because the union was not consummated.

“Any person looking at this case can see that this loophole is tragic and deserves to be closed,” Rep. John J. Duncan, R-Tenn., the bill’s sponsor, told the House before the chamber passed the Marine Sergeant Michael H. Ferschke, Jr. Memorial Act.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., are working to pass similar legislation in the Senate, according to Duncan’s office.

“We still have a long way to go,” Hotaru Ferschke, 26, told Stars and Stripes on Wednesday from her residence on Okinawa.

Her husband’s family has supported her decision to raise Mikey, now nearly 2, in his father’s hometown of Maryville, Tenn.

“I don’t want to be excited,” Robin Ferschke, the Marine’s mother, told Stars and Stripes on Wednesday by phone from Tennessee. “Not until everything is 100 percent sure.”

Hotaru flew back to Maryville for her husband’s funeral and was so touched by the outpouring of love from her new in-laws that she decided to raise their son there. She was able to stay with the Ferschkes for almost a year after Mikey was born, but was forced to return to Okinawa when her visa ran out. She currently works at Kadena Air Base.

“This is something that almost, I think, everyone on both sides of the aisle, when they’ve heard about it, they’ve been supportive and helpful,” Duncan told the House on Monday when introducing H.R. 6397.

It was unclear Wednesday when the bill would make it to the Senate.

reedc@pstripes.osd.mil

sumidac@pstripes.osd.mil

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