Knoxville News Sentinel: US Senate approves residency for widow

Bill to let Maryville Marine's wife raise son here needs House OK

Posted on December 4, 2010

WASHINGTON - With a unanimous consent vote late Friday afternoon, the U.S. Senate honored a U.S. Marine sergeant from Maryville killed in Iraq and voted to allow his Japanese widow to fulfill a promise to raise their son in Tennessee.

The private bill, addressing narrowly the situation of Sgt. Michael Ferschke's family, still must be approved by the U.S. House. It would grant permanent residency to Ferschke's Japanese wife, Hotaru Ferschke.

Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Jim Webb, D-Va., and Mark Udall, D-Colo., introduced the private bill last year. A broader policy bill had become stalled in the Senate.

"The very least the country Michael Ferschke died serving can do is honor Michael's last wish - that his wife be allowed to raise their son near their family in Tennessee," Alexander said in a statement.

"This bill honors Michael, an American hero from Tennessee; his wife, Hotaru; their son, Michael; and his parents in Maryville, who suffered his loss in August 2008 and have suffered the separation from their daughter-in-law and grandson since that time as well.

"I am pleased that the Senate passed this bill, and I urge the House to pass it quickly, so that the Ferschke family can be reunited."

Hotaru "Hota" Ferschke married the sergeant about a month before he was killed in Iraq on Aug. 10, 2008. The wedding took place by proxy: Sgt. Ferschke was in Iraq, his bride in Japan. The couple never saw each other again.

Hota Ferschke was pregnant at the time they wed, and she and Sgt. Ferschke had agreed to raise their son in Tennessee. But she can't move to the U.S. because their marriage is not recognized under a Cold War-era immigration law.

That law, which remains current, dictates that marriage between an American citizen and a foreign national must be consummated after the wedding before the non-American can gain permanent residency status. The measure was enacted to stop foreigners from entering into sham marriages so they can gain permanent U.S. residency.

A bill before Congress would have closed the immigration law loophole by writing in an exemption for couples who are unable to consummate their marriage because one of them was on active duty in the armed forces.

The bill, called "The Marine Sgt. Michael H. Ferschke Jr. Memorial Act," cleared the U.S. House last month with bipartisan support. Backers were hoping to push the measure quickly through the U.S. Senate, but objections from key senators - including Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee - slowed it down.

Opponents felt the broader bill would remove immigration safeguards.

The substitute private bill passed Friday would narrowly affect only the Ferschkes, and supporters are hoping for a quick consent vote in the House.