Immigrant risked all to pursue American Dream

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The accident occurred June 7 when a wall...

The accidental death of a Queens worker has caused great concern about safety measures at construction sites and a controversy over the denial of a visa for this man’s wife to come from China to claim his body.

The accident occurred June 7 when a wall collapsed, killing Jian Guo Shen, a 44-year-old Chinese man living in Flushing, while working at a construction site in Elmhurst. He had come to this country in 1999 from Shanghai, perhaps for a better life, but ended up doing odd jobs and lost his life. It is a tragedy.

It’s also very sad that his wife, Yue Xia Zhang, was at first unable to come to Flushing because the U.S. consulate in that city had rejected her application for a visa for security reasons. That obviously devastated the deceased’s family. Officials were concerned that her brief sojourn to recover the body of her husband would have posed a threat to our national security.

The immigration authorities also had suspected the two were no longer husband and wife after the couple had been separated geographically for four years, and there was a possibility she might have remained in this country once she got here, according to local Chinese media.

It is unlikely she would choose to stay here as a stranger without any marketable skills. Even if she wanted to stay, the fresh memory of her late husband’s plight could deter her.

Recognizing that a visa rejection in such a tragic case is morally wrong, community leaders and politicians came to her rescue. City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) flexed their political muscles, calling on authorities to reconsider this case so that Zhang could come in accordance with a humanitarian parole, according to the TimesLedger Newspapers.

Liu’s hard work and Clinton’s involvement apparently worked. Shen’s widow finally came July 15 to attend a long-delayed funeral service in Flushing Saturday. According to Liu, she was to remain in the United States for a month before returning home with her husband’s ashes.

Ours is a land of opportunities, full of temptation to a lot of people. While a great number of immigrants have realized their dreams here, many others get stuck in the low-paying labor market.

Some people around the world share a lifetime wish — a successful journey to the United States. Without special skills, however, many find life here even harsher than in their homeland.

Shen could have been alive today and led a normal life if he had stayed with his wife and their young son in Shanghai, where he had a respectable job.

On the other hand, tasking a risk is human nature, and the risk-takers often achieve great success. Shen was perhaps one of those individuals believing in that hypothesis.

It was reported that just one day before the fatal accident, Shen had paid $3,000 to an immigration lawyer in Queens for a status change. This lawyer probably has done nothing for him and, therefore, should return every penny to his widow.

In the meantime, developers and contractors should do everything possible to ensure their workers’ safety at construction sites. Their lives are as precious as ours, regardless of their legal status.

In fact, quite a few of those workers are well-educated people and had good jobs in their native countries. They have made great sacrifices in venturing to this new world by leaving their spouses and children behind. Some never see their loved ones again.

Home construction has been a thriving industry during the past five years due to attractive mortgage interest rates. So the local demand for relatively low-wage labor is great.

Enter the new immigrants. Take a closer look, and you will see that Hispanics and Asians dominate the workforce at local construction sites. They are versatile in their trade. Some of them can do both carpentry and masonry work, a developer told me the other day.

These workers usually gather at a corner in Flushing every morning, hoping contractors will stop and hire them. If they perform well, they can keep their temporary jobs for at least another day or longer.

Their wages range from $60 to $120 a day, depending on their skills. It is a bit higher than the minimum wage. Not bad, huh? But these people work their fingers to the bone to show they are worth their salt.

Updated 7:08 pm, October 10, 2011
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