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The Japanese-born widow of a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq has the backing of the U.S. House of Representatives in her efforts to become a permanent U.S. citizen, but her family isn’t celebrating just yet.
Sgt. Michael Ferschke met Hota Ferschke when he was stationed in Okinawa. He was a reconnaissance officer and she was an administrative specialist.
When it was time for Ferschke to be deployed to Iraq, he proposed to Hota. They planned to marry and move to the U.S. when he was finished with his tour.
“He asked me to help her get her visa," Michael Ferschke's mother, Robin Ferschke, told FoxNews.com. "He wanted to be a dive school instructor in Florida.”
But when Hota found out she was pregnant a month after Michael left, he insisted that they get married right away. The couple was married over the phone in 2008.
“He was so happy,” his mother said. “He wanted to do the right thing ... He wanted to get (married) as quick as he could, so Hota and the baby could be taken care of until he returned.”
Michael was killed in combat a month later from that day, and his family began making arrangements for their son's widow to come to the U.S. and raise their son, Michael or "Mikey."
But they quickly found out that U.S. immigration law wouldn’t allow them to do so. Since the couple never lived together or consummated the marriage, their marriage is recognized in every way except for immigration purposes, making Hota Ferschke unable to become a permanent U.S. citizen.
Hota temporarily moved to Maryville, Tenn., to raise Mikey with her late husband's family, but she returned to Okinawa a year ago in light of the immigration snag and to resume her job.
“The pain of my son never goes away, [but] a month later you can’t find out that his wife can’t come here,” Robin Ferschke told FoxNews.com.
Though the Defense Department recognizes the marriage and paid for death benefits to the Ferschkes, the Department of Homeland Security does not.
“A country my son has died for has put us through living hell,” Robin told FoxNews.com
As far as the Ferschkes and lawmakers can tell, this has never happened before. In effort to make an exception for service members in such immigration cases, the family teamed up with lawmakers such as Rep. Jimmy Duncan, R-Tenn., and drafted The Marine Sgt. Michael H. Ferschke Jr. Memorial Act, which the House approved through a voice vote Monday.
"I’m very hopeful, but I’m very scared because I’ve been hopeful before and it gets shot down," Robin Ferschke told FoxNews.com.
The bill does not get rid of the requirement for consummation of marriage for immigration purposes. It only allows for the narrow exception for military members who married while deployed, stating “in cases where the failure to consummate the marriage is caused by a physical separation due to active-duty military service aboard by one of the parties.”
The Senate will now vote on the bill. But the family is apprehensive about the legislation's future. Robin Ferschke explained that similar measures have been previously blocked by lawmakers.
“This is a tragic issue, my son is a hero… he gave his life for his country,” Robin Ferschke said. “All I ask for them to do is to look at this differently.”