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Marine widow's immigration bill passes Congress

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Congress has cleared the way for the Japanese wife of a Marine killed in Iraq to immigrate to the United States to raise the couple’s son.

A bill that would allow the 26-year-old woman to begin her path to U.S. citizenship passed the House on Wednesday after having cleared the Senate earlier this month. It now awaits a signature from President Barack Obama.

Congress’ move essentially grants an exemption to U.S. law that will allow Hotaru Ferschke to relocate from Okinawa to the Tennessee hometown of her husband, Sgt. Michael Ferschke.

“I kept my promise to my son. This is what makes me feel so much better than anything,” said Robin Ferschke, Michael’s mom, who has been fighting to help her daughter-in-law move to the U.S. “I am sure my son is proud of me.”  

The “private relief legislation” was crafted specifically for Hotaru Ferschke, who married Michael Ferschke over the phone in July 2008 while he was deployed to Iraq. She was already pregnant with their child. 

A month after marrying, the 22-year-old Marine was killed while conducting door-to-door searches near Baghdad. 

Hotaru Ferschke was so touched by the outpouring of love from her in-laws after his death that she wanted to raise their son in Maryville, Tenn., which was her late husband’s wish.  

Though their “marriage by proxy” was valid by military standards, it was not recognized by the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the immigration process. Citing a federal law that requires marriages to be consummated in order to qualify foreign-born spouses for a path to U.S. citizenship, DHS denied Hotaru Ferschke’s immigration application. The Ferschkes’ son, Mikey, is a U.S. citizen because his father was. 

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Hotaru Ferschke, who works for the U.S. military at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, was not available for comment Thursday. 

The bill is one of only two “private relief legislations” to come out of the Senate in the last five years.

Some of the bill’s sponsors, including Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., have characterized the consummation requirement in the citizenship process as a “loophole” that needs correcting.

Webb will continue to work “to change the outdated immigration law in order to prevent similar situations from arising in the future,” according to a statement released by his office Wednesday.

“Every now and then, there comes an issue that tells us a lot about who we are, and how we live up to our promises, great and small,” Webb said, “particularly the promises we make to those who step forward and place their lives on the line in order to carry out the policies that we create.”

A second bill introduced by Rep. John J. Duncan, R-Tenn., to close the immigration loophole for everyone -- H.R.6397, the Marine Sergeant Michael H. Ferschke Jr. Memorial Act -- passed the House Nov. 15, and is currently pending in the Senate.

Since Michael Ferschke's death, his mother has been able only to see her grandson, Mikey, temporary visits. Nearly two years old, he's starting to look a lot like his Marine father and is speaking English and Japanese words, Robin Ferschke said. 

"Just to hold that baby means so much to me," she told The Associated Press. "When I hold him, I am holding my Michael."

reedc@pstripes.osd.mil

sumidac@pstripes.osd.mil

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