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Wife of Elmhurst worker killed in trench gets visa

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Yuexiao Zhang, who lives in Shanghai with the couple's son, was initially denied a tourist visa that would have permitted her to identify her husband's body and return it to China for burial. But after pressure from U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), who was alerted by City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), the Department of Homeland Security decided last Thursday to issue Zhang a humanitarian visa, Clinton spokeswoman Nina Blackwell said.

"I am so pleased that I could work with Council member Liu to obtain this visa for Mrs. Zhang," Clinton said in a statement. "She has already been through so much pain and suffering - the ability to come to New York and lay her husband to rest is the least we can do for her."

Zhang's husband, Jian Guo Shen, 44, was killed June 7 when an old foundation gave way at the Elmhurst construction site where he was helping dig a trench. In the collapse, Shen and two others, who were treated at a nearby hospital and later released, were pinned under more than six feet of concrete, dirt and stone.

Rescue workers plucked Shen's lifeless body from the rubble at the site at 52nd Avenue and 92nd Street, where the apparently illegal immigrant had secured a job just a few days before. He was pronounced dead.

Friends eventually helped officials track down Shen's family, and the New York Police Department asked Zhang to come to the United States, Liu said.

But the fate of Shen's body hovered in limbo for weeks after Zhang was denied a visa by the U.S. consulate in her native Shanghai out of concern that she might seek to remain in the more affluent United States.

Without a family member to officially identify the body, Liu said last week, Shen ran the risk of being buried in a potter's field.

Liu, along with Kai Wu, president of the American Shanghai Business Council Inc., contacted Clinton, and together the group petitioned the Homeland Security Department for a humanitarian visa for Zhang, Blackwell said.

The agency, which now oversees U.S. citizenship and immigration procedures, authorized the temporary emergency visa last Thursday, Blackwell said.

"I am gratified that Ms. Zhang will be permitted to come to New York to identify and bring back home her husband's remains," Liu said in a statement. "The granting of this visa is a glimmer of humanity in a process that has become cruel and dehumanizing."

As of Tuesday, it was unclear if Zhang had picked up her visa from the U.S. consulate, but she was expected to arrive in New York shortly .

"I hope that this will at least bring her some much-needed peace," Clinton said.

Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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