Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
About this Blog   |   On Twitter   |   Follow us on Facebook   |   RSS Feeds RSS Feed
Posted at 2:08 PM ET, 12/15/2010

Webb bill to help Marine widow set to become law

By Ben Pershing
Marine Sgt. Michael H. Ferschke Jr.

On an August day two years ago, Hotaru Nakama Ferschke was in her native Okinawa, Japan, when she got the news that her new husband -- Marine Sgt. Michael H. Ferschke Jr. - had been killed 5,000 miles away while searching a house north of Baghdad.

The couple had been married by phone a month earlier, and had recently found out they would be having a child.

Since Ferschke Jr.'s death in 2008, his widow has been trying to immigrate to the United States to join her slain husband's family in Tennessee, but was stymied by a quirk in immigration laws.

Now her saga is nearing a happy conclusion, as the House passed a bill Wednesday sponsored by Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) that would permit Ferschke to apply for permanent resident status and allow her and her son, Michael "Mikey" Ferschke III, to move to the U.S. The Senate passed the same measure last week, meaning it is cleared for President Obama's signature.

For the Ferschke family, the measure's passage prompted celebration -- and relief.

"How do I say this? It's like a breath of fresh air," Robin Ferschke, the fallen soldier's mother, said Wednesday in an interview from Maryville, Tenn. "It's amazing. ... [We're] very emotional, very excited and very very very grateful."

The legislation that cleared the House Wednesday was a "private bill," meaning that it was explicitly written to benefit just one person. Such bills are exceedingly rare - the last time a private bill became law was in 2006 - but the Ferschkes' case seemed to call for extraordinary measures.

The young couple met in Okinawa, where Ferschke Jr, a radio operator, was stationed, and had been together roughly a year before he was deployed to Iraq in April 2008. They were married in July, and he was killed in August at the age of 22.

The Pentagon recognized the Ferschkes' marriage, as such "proxy weddings" are common in the military. But under a decades-old law designed to prevent fraud, U.S. immigration authorities did not recognize the Ferschkes' marriage because they were in different places when the wedding occurred and never "consummated" the union by seeing each other in person after the marriage but before Ferschke Jr. died.

Hotaru Nakama Ferschke was able to get temporary visas to visit her husband's family but could not move to the U.S., as she hoped to do.

The Ferschkes quickly found supporters on Capitol Hill, including their local congressman, John Duncan (R-Tenn.), and Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander (R) and Bob Corker (R). Because immigration policy has become such a thorny political issue, however, lawmakers couldn't agree on a way to change the law in question.

So Duncan introduced a private bill in July 2009, which never got to a vote. The House finally passed a different version of the measure last month. The Senate then approved yet another iteration of the legislation, sponsored by Webb, which explains why the House had to act again Wednesday, passing the bill by voice vote.

"It was a back and forth constantly with the Senate and the House," Robin Ferschke said, adding that she would keep fighting to change the outdated law "so no other family ever has to go through what we have."

Webb said in a statement last week that he had the same goal, and that the bill now headed to Obama's desk "will right a wrong for a Marine who paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country and for his family."

Robin Ferschke said she wasn't sure yet how quickly her daughter-in-law and grandson would move to Tennessee, since she has a job and obligations in Okinawa. But they will be coming to Maryville for Christmas.

Mikey turns 2 in January.

By Ben Pershing  | December 15, 2010; 2:08 PM ET
Categories:  Ben Pershing, James Webb  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: McDonnell didn't give Republican legislators a heads-up on transportation plan
Next: McDonnell proposes ending taxpayer support for public broadcasting

No comments have been posted to this entry.

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company