Maryville Daily Times: President’s signature will wrap up Ferschke Act

Posted on December 16, 2010

The package is in the mail, but Robin Ferschke has seen this gift-wrapped present end up in the dead letter office before.

“I’m pretty overwhelmed. Is it real?” she asked after learning that the U.S. House of Representatives had passed a bill that will allow her family to be united — finally.

Thanks to the discovery of a “loophole,” a bill to grant permanent resident status to the widow of a Maryville marine is headed to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The Marine Sergeant Michael H. Ferschke, Jr. Memorial Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives without objection on Wednesday.

Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville, got to play the role of Santa. He delivered the good news via phone call to Robin.

Although the effort to pass the measure, S. 1774, ran into several procedural roadblocks in the House and Senate and appeared dead for the year, Duncan secured a final vote with just hours remaining in the current 111th Congress.

“This is something that everyone has wanted to support all through this process, and it is a great moment for this family,” Duncan said. “Helping people caught up in extraordinary circumstances like the Ferschke’s is one of the most basic and important jobs of Congress, and I am so grateful for all the bipartisan support in the House and Senate.”

“I called Robin Ferschke to give her the news as soon as the bill passed, and I know she is so thrilled for this to be over and to see her grandson very soon.”

Robin Ferschke is the mother of Sgt. Ferschke. His widow is Hota Ferschke, a Japanese national. Their son is “Mikey.”

The opportunity for Wednesday’s vote came after the recently discovered loophole outmaneuvered a procedural objection by U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who had blocked a previous vote for “procedural” reasons.

As it turned out, it was procedure that opened the way for the act to clear the House.

Patrick Newton, communications director for Duncan’s office, said the need for a second bill evaporated when they discovered a way for the House to vote on the bill despite Sensenbrenner’s hold.

“We found a way to get around it, a loophole,” Newton said.

The first bill was designed as a private act so it would not apply to any other individual except for Hota Ferschke. In order to further restrict any possible unintended impact of the measure, the Senate added an amendment to specify that the bill could not affect the federal budget, according to Newton.

That amendment turned the private relief act into a public bill that could not be held up by the objection of a single House member, Newton said. Although the act that passed Wednesday is technically a public bill, in reality it is still a private relief act because it affects only one person.

Hota married Sgt. Michael Ferschke in 2008 over the telephone while she was in Japan and he was stationed in Iraq. Hota was expecting their child at the time, and the couple had been dating for more than a year.

The pair never saw each other again. Michael died in combat shortly thereafter on Aug. 10, 2008.

Although the marriage is fully recognized by the military, under a cold war-era immigration law, a marriage between an American and a foreign national must be consummated after the ceremony in order for it to be valid for immigration purposes.

Hota and Michael had planned to raise Mikey in Tennessee with Michael’s family, but she was forced to return to Japan with Mikey when her visa expired.

Alexander applauds

Duncan worked for nearly two years to bring Hota Ferschke and Mikey back to Tennessee.

“I’m happy,” Robin Ferschke said, sounding relieved after receiving the phone call from Duncan.

She praised the congressman’s efforts, along with those of Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va.

“Amazing” is how she described their help.

Alexander, a Maryville native, praised the House’s passage of the bill he introduced in the Senate last year.

The act “fulfills the last wish of an American hero that his wife and son be allowed to live near his family in Tennessee,” he said.

“This is the way Congress is supposed to work — seeing the need and finding a solution — a job that is never more important than when it honors the sacrifice of a service member who died in combat and helps reunite the family that suffered his loss,” Alexander said.

Home for Christmas

Hota and Mikey will be in Maryville for Christmas, Robin Ferschke said. It will give the women a chance to consider what’s next.

“We couldn’t plan on that before. We could only dream. Now, we can at least look to the future,” Robin Ferschke said. “I’ll talk to Hota, see where we go from there. Now we can decide what we want to do. Now we can concentrate on us.”

One more signature, and this long-awaited special delivery from Congress will cement this Christmas as special for the Ferschke family.

“Now, it has to go to the president. I’ll have one more deep breath when he signs it,” Robin said.