WASHINGTON -- High-level U.S. help is rushing to the rescue of Marjorie Fuller, the "stateless American" confined to a Chinese labor camp much of her life and now held in a nursing home in northeast China.
But a dispute has developed about whether she still wants to come to the United States.
Texas businessman Ross Perot and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican, are trying to grant Ms. Fuller's repeatedly expressed wish to come to this country.
The State Department, which for years has denied Ms. Fuller's right to U.S. citizenship, even though her father was a U.S. citizen, now says she no longer wants to come.
"When asked specifically if she would like to go to the United States, Ms. Fuller replied, 'I think not,' and a bit later 'Of course, I don't want to go,' " said a State Department cable that reported on the Sept. 15 visit of U.S. consul Conoff Patterson to Ms. Fuller at the nursing home where she is being held in Harbin, China.
Senator Hatch was furious yesterday when he learned that the State Department claim was contradicted by a recent telephone conversion between Ms. Fuller and a Baltimore man.
"I want very much to go, to go to America," Ms. Fuller said last Saturday over the phone to Charles Paglee, 29, a University of Maryland law student who has championed her case.
Mr. Hatch immediately put a call through to Mr. Perot, who had already agreed to pay for Ms. Fuller's trip to this country and to act as her sponsor here.
"We're going to start putting pressure on them [the State Department] to get those visas ready," the senator said.
After spending more than half her life in a labor camp because she lacked the right papers, the ailing 72-year-old still seems trapped in bureaucratic red tape.
Ms. Fuller was born in China during the 1920s to a playboy American newsman and his Polish wife. The newsman, Alfred Fuller, abandoned his wife and daughter.
Ms. Fuller, who had a U.S. passport when she was an infant, has spent her entire life in China but has always been treated like a foreigner there. Since the Communists came to power in 1949, she has been classified a "stateless American," without any rights.
In fact, the Chinese, who kept Ms. Fuller in a labor camp for 23 years before she was moved to the nursing home in Harbin 14 years ago, have tightened restrictions on her further since learning of the heightened interest in her case.
Although she depended on visiting Americans for the only personal care she received, Ms. Fuller can no longer have foreign guests without the approval of the Chinese government. The ban was imposed Sept. 17, two days after the American consul visited her at Senator Hatch's request.
Ms. Fuller's friends believe the high-level attention she's getting is making the Chinese nervous -- especially because it highlights the poor care she has received.
The State Department cable says Mr. Patterson was told by nursing home officials that Ms. Fuller's health would make traveling hazardous. They said she is paralyzed from the waist down and in one arm from a stroke some years ago and a brain hemorrhage. They said she also has diabetes.
What's more, nursing home officials told the consul they would not permit Ms. Fuller to leave, according to the cable.
But that report on her condition was much grimmer than what Mr. Paglee found when he last visited Ms. Fuller in late August with a Sun reporter, who reported on the case in The Sun on Sept. 24.