Outraged lawmakers promised to intervene when they heard the story of a young Japanese widow who was being forced to return to her native country, despite her deceased American Marine-husband’s wishes that she raise their son in Tennessee.
More than a half-year later, the young mother and her baby son have gone back to Japan, her Tennessee in-laws are devastated, and the legislation that was supposed to keep the family together in the U.S. has stalled in the Legislature.
After Robin Ferschke’s (mother of Sgt. Michael Ferschke) fighting to ensure her daughter-in-law and grandson can live in the United States, members of the U.S. House and Senate acknowledged that legislation that was supposed to grant permanent residency to Hotaru Ferschke has been put on hold and is unlikely to be approved.
However lawmakers say they are still determined to help the young woman honor her deceased husband’s wishes and have begun looking for other ways to allow her to return permanently to Tennessee.
The Ferschkes’ story made national headlines and caught the attention of Congress last year because of their emotional battle against a half-century-old federal law that is threatening to tear the family apart.
Marine Sgt. Michael Ferschke, 22, was killed in a hail of bullets in Iraq on Aug. 10, 2008, about five months before his son was born. He had been stationed for three years in Japan, where he met and fell in love with Hota, who would eventually become his wife. The couple was married by proxy – he in Iraq, she in Japan – about a month before he died.
Yet U.S. immigration law doesn’t recognize the marriage. Hota was pregnant when they wed, but under a law from the Cold War era that was enacted to guard against sham weddings, proxy marriages are not valid unless the marriage has been consummated after the couple has taken their vows.
Their son, Mikey, now 1, is an American by birth. But Hota Ferschke is not an American citizen and cannot raise him in the United States, as the couple had agreed to do. Her predicament led to the filing of two bills in Congress to grant her permanent residency.
The young mother and her infant son came to Maryville in early 2009 and stayed nearly a year after receiving a six-month visa that was routinely extended for another six months. But they returned to Japan last January when Congress failed to act on either of the bills filed on her behalf.
The two pieces of legislation are known as “private” bills, meaning they would grant permanent residency status to Hota Ferschke . Private bills are generally frowned upon because they can be seen as showing favoritism to a particular person or cause. Congressional aides say it has been at least five years since the Senate passed such legislation. But according to Newton, the spokesman for Congressman Duncan, the Senate has put a hold on all private bills.
A routine background check on Hota Ferschke by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security uncovered nothing in her past that would keep her from being given permanent residency.
The House subcommittee that is handling the measure has no interest in putting any effort into legislation that is going nowhere in the Senate, he said.
Duncan is now exploring the possibility of attaching the measure to a larger bill or maybe working to change the law retroactively, Newton said. “We’re not going to let the Senate hold up this effort,” he said.
Hota and Mikey are scheduled to return to Maryville for a one-week visit in July. But unless Congress acts quickly, they will have to go back to Japan, once again leaving behind a family still mourning the loss of a young soldier and still fighting to bring home the son he will never know.
“I’m looking so forward to seeing them,” Robin Ferschke said of her daughter-in-law and grandson. “I am not looking forward to saying goodbye.”