CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The phone call devastated Robin Ferschke, the mother of a Marine killed in Iraq.
Her Okinawan daughter-in-law, six months pregnant with the couple’s child, tearfully called earlier this week and said she was having problems getting a residency visa to live in the United States.
"She was crying so hard, it was hard to understand what she was saying," Robin said in a telephone interview Thursday from her home in Maryville, Tenn. "She said she was told she could not get a visa because of something called the two-year rule."
Because of problems with fraudulent marriages, in 1986 Congress revised the rules for immigration through marriage, requiring foreigners to be married to U.S. citizens for at least two years before they can receive a residency visa.
The rule’s goal was to ensure that the marriages are performed in good faith and not for immigration purposes.
But Hotaru Ferschke, 24, and Marine Sgt. Michael Ferschke Jr., 22, a radio operator with the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, had been married only one month before he was killed July 10 while conducting door-to-door searches in Iraq.
They were married by proxy while he was in Iraq, and the unusual circumstance has further complicated the issue. Although the couple had planned to eventually live in the United States, no paperwork for a residency visa had been prepared before the sergeant’s death.
"Hota called me and said she tried to get the documents necessary for a visa, but she was told she had to wait," Robin said. "I said there was no way this was going to happen. I lost my son — I am not going to lose my grandson, too.
"We’re going to get his done," she said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Consulate on Okinawa said Hotaru had an appointment there Thursday afternoon.
"After we check out her application, we will try to help her in whatever way we can," said Fuji Takayasu, a public affairs assistant for the consulate.
"There is a two-year rule," she acknowledged. "But if she cannot meet that qualification, there should be a way to get her visa. There are other ways of doing things."
Hotaru had decided to move to her husband’s home after the baby, due in January, is born. She said she wanted to raise the child in the town where his father was raised, in the midst of his loving family.
"So that he would feel his father’s presence," she told Stars and Stripes earlier this month. She had planned to give birth on Okinawa, but had changed her mind in recent weeks and wanted to have the child born in Tennessee.
"But we are not now sure we can do that," Robin said. "We don’t know when the visa will be granted. If it takes too long, she’ll be in the final months of her pregnancy, and the trip over here will be too risky."
Hotaru has declined any interviews concerning the visa problem.
"This was all so unexpected, it made her very nervous," Robin said. "She’s still grieving for Michael and worried about the baby and doesn’t want to talk to anyone.
"Michael’s unit has rallied around her and is keeping the press away while they are trying to get everything ironed out. They are protecting her, taking her to places she needs to go and collecting the right information."
"The Marine Corps on Okinawa is working very closely with Mrs. Hota Ferschke and the U.S. Consulate in Okinawa to assist Mrs. Ferschke in the Visa application process," 1st Lt. Judd Wilson, media relations officer for Marine Corps Bases Japan, said in an e-mail response to a Stripes query.
"Mrs. Ferschke has not been denied any visa to the United States," he said. "This is a misunderstanding."
Added Wilson: "Marines take care of their own, and Mrs. Ferschke and her child are a part of the Marine Corps family,"
In the meantime, Robin is busy turning her son’s room into a nursery for her grandchild.
"Hota is such a precious gift to us," she said. "She is giving up everything she’s known in order to honor Michael’s wishes. We are going to be ready to welcome her and Michael’s son with open arms."