- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2002

Three times since September 11, Navy widow Marinella Hemenway has been handed ceremonial folded American flags "with the thanks of a grateful nation."

Now immigration officials of that "grateful nation" say Mrs. Hemenways aged mother must go back to Italy, leaving her daughter and preschool grandchildren to mourn alone for Petty Officer 1st Class Ronald F. Hemenway, who died at his Pentagon desk on September 11.

Immigration and Naturalization Service rules require that Jolanda Sannino, 79, leave the United States by Sept. 15.

"INS said it doesnt matter that shes 79; the law is the same for everybody. Except for the terrorists," an angry Mrs. Hemenway said in an interview, requesting help in keeping her mother in the United States at least for an additional six months or so.

"They werent quite so strict on visas for the terrorists who hijacked Flight 77 and killed my husband and all those other people at the Pentagon," Mrs. Hemenway said, recalling that the INS mailed student visa approval forms to Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi in March, six months after they killed thousands of people by crashing airliners into the World Trade Center.

Four days after terrorists killed 125 Pentagon workers by crashing a hijacked airliner into the Pentagon, the Navy airlifted Mrs. Sannino to the United States to comfort her daughter. But the rubber-stamp admission on her U.S. visa is valid only for the one year since the Navy airlift.

An INS spokeswoman who heard the facts would not discuss a specific case or pursue an exception, but confirmed to The Washington Times that this is the law because Mrs. Sanninos admission stamp was for one year.

Mrs. Sannino who proudly displays identification cards from employment in Italy by the U.S. Navy and NATO, and her 1944-45 "alien employee pass" from the Army says she will depart if she must Sept. 13.

She is not anxious to go but will abide by the law less than 24 hours after a unique Arlington National Cemetery ceremony once again honors her son-in-law and 183 other victims of the Pentagon attack.

"If she didnt go, she would be 'out of status and be subject to removal," said INS spokeswoman Ernestine Fobbs, who suggested that Mrs. Hemenway either become a citizen herself and petition for her mothers admission, or that her mother take her chances with an airport immigration inspector on a later trip.

"She can go home and come back later and apply for additional time," the spokeswoman said."Ive given my heart to America. I gave my youth to America," Mrs. Sannino said during an interview at her daughters home, where the family moved recently after losing military housing and other benefits six months after Petty Officer Hemenway was declared dead.

Statements about giving her youth and heart referred to 25 years of civilian employment at the U.S. Navy Support Activity in Naples, Italy.She said an INS inspector brushed her off by saying, "I know your story," and treated her rudely during a three-way conference call with a military assistance officer.

"Shes used to speaking to immigrants, so she was a little bit rough. She almost scared me, the way she was talking," said Mrs. Sannino, who was unable to provide names of INS personnel with whom she talked.

No formal steps were filed to alter her status, and she said she knows of no procedures to do so."I dont want to be treated like a poor immigrant," Mrs. Sannino said, while describing hopes that she can shortcut any requirement to leave and re-enter.

She said she fears she would be turned away if she comes back too soon.

"And the Italian Embassy was very nice, but they couldnt help at all," Mrs. Sannino said.

Complicating the issue is Mrs. Sanninos desire for a periodic physical examination, which the government would pay for in Italy. She has no insurance and says she is no longer eligible for military aid as a dependent. She said she has no critical illnesses but takes medicine to control ulcers, blood pressure, cholesterol and occasional heart irregularity.

Although Mrs. Hemenways two children were born U.S. citizens, her own process of becoming a U.S. citizen could take several more months. Those informed about the process agree she would have no problem keeping her mother with her once she is naturalized.

But Mrs. Hemenway says she is devastated and wants to have her mothers companionship now, and to have temporary assistance with Stefan, 3, and Desiree, 21 months, through tough days of settling in at their Lorton condominium, and arranging pre-school at Fort Belvoir for $600 a month.

Mrs. Hemenway also feels she may have to seek a job soon because of financial need.

But both women say those needs are temporary, to tide over the widow and children while completing the complex process of applying for aid from the Victim Compensation Fund.

After offsets for insurance and for his military pension, that federal award is likely to range from $650,000 to $763,000 based on her husbands age and salary, according to estimates from the first 25 cases, unless prospects in civilian life were taken into account.

Four days after the Pentagon attack, Mrs. Sannino was brought to the United States to comfort her daughter, whose husband was missing and presumed dead.

Mrs. Hemenway thanked the Navy for the unsolicited gesture of flying in her mother, who appeared in Virginia to greet her without advance notice.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide