WASHINGTON -- The State Department promised yesterday to help Marjorie Fuller, an elderly "stateless American," leave China now that she has told a U.S. official that she wants to come to the United States.
The department's new posture suggested that an end could be in sight for Miss Fuller's five-decade nightmare. Born in China to an American father but denied U.S. citizenship, she spent 23 years in forced labor after the Communist revolution. Now 72, Miss Fuller has been confined for the last 14 years to a nursing home in Harbin, China, partly paralyzed by a stroke.
Previous efforts by Americans to help her have been clouded by official doubts about whether she actually wanted to come to the United States. But when a U.S. consular official visited Miss Fuller last week and again asked her if she wanted to come here, she replied, "Sure."
"This is the first time Miss Fuller has expressed interest in traveling to the United States to a consulate official," said John Dinger, a State Department spokesman.
"Clearly, this raises many new issues, such as permission for her to travel, the financial resources necessary for such a trip and whether her health will allow her to travel," he said. "The United States government is willing to assist any friends, family or other interested parties to address these issues aimed at insuring the welfare of Miss Fuller."
While the State Department had said that during an earlier visit Miss Fuller had said she did not want to come to the United States, she had told The Sun the opposite in an interview in August.
Both Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire, and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican, said they would try to help her leave China.
Mr. Perot has offered to pay for her travel and to serve as her "sponsor" under U.S. immigration law. Mr. Hatch has said he would either press the State Department to issue her a visa or, if necessary, introduce legislation granting her U.S. citizenship.
An aide to Mr. Hatch declined yesterday to comment on Miss Fuller's case, saying the senator had not yet received the State Department statement. A spokeswoman for Mr. Perot also had no response.
A State Department official, who declined to be identified, said Miss Fuller's one-word response left open the possibility that she could change her mind about coming here. The Chinese government could also refuse to allow her to travel, the official said, although this would be unlikely.
The official said there would probably be no great obstacle to granting her a visa to come to the United States, provided that U.S. taxpayers would not have to pay for her travel or medical care.
Miss Fuller briefly held a U.S. passport as a child. But when she applied for one years later, she was turned down. She was denied U.S. citizenship because her father, while a U.S. citizen himself, was born to American expatriates living abroad and had never lived in the United States before she was born. Her mother was born to a Polish family.
Raised among American and other expatriates in pre-revolutionary Shanghai, Miss Fuller was, in her words, "swallowed by the dragon" during the 1950s, when the Communist government labeled her and her mother "stateless" and put them in a work camp. When the regime loosened up after the death of Mao Tse-tung, Miss Fuller was shifted to a retirement home in Harbin.