McInnis offers assistance to widow of Little Ollie’s worker
U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis and local residents have rallied behind efforts to allow the wife of a local worker who was killed in an accident last month into the country. But it may already be too late.
Since the death of Yiao Jun Zhang on April 6, Zhang’s wife has three times been denied a visitor’s visa to enter the United States and retrieve her husband’s body. Zhang was from China and was working at Little Ollie’s in Aspen. His wife and child remain in China.
“She’s been denied for three weeks and at this point I think they might have given up,” said Ken Lin, Little Ollie’s manager. “They [State Department officials] just don’t give a damn.”
On Friday, a representative in McInnis’ office said the congressman would look into ways to expedite the process.
“If the family needs us, we’ll see what can be done as a go-between,” said Bill Endriss, a caseworker in McInnis’ Colorado office.
But aside from the family’s frustration, there are elemental issues that could make McInnis’ intentions too late in coming. Lin said he has been told that the state of Zhang’s body is deteriorating and he may have to be cremated within the week.
“It’s outrageous,” said Rachel Baird, an Aspen-area resident and frequent diner at Little Ollie’s. “This is her husband and she’s never going to see him again. I think when someone dies, it’s a basic human response to want to have some closure or it’s almost like it never happened.”
Zhang and fellow Little Ollie’s employee Sing Guo Wu were killed by another vehicle as they attempted to push a disabled van on Highway 82.
Attempts to obtain a temporary visa for Zhang’s wife and brother have been denied based on a failure to “convince our officers that they will return to China from a temporary trip to the United States,” according to a State Department letter.
According to State Department officials, Zhang was working here illegally on an expired visitor’s visa at the time of his death.
His wife offered to leave their young son in China and a Chinese consulate in Chicago promised to vouch for her return, but the State Department remained unmoved.
In an earlier interview with The Aspen Times, Maria Rudensky at the State Department questioned why Zhang’s wife felt the need to personally retrieve her husband’s body.
“Why is Jun insisting on coming to Aspen when it would be easier to have the body shipped home?” Rudensky said. “We need to take into account that the relatives may not return to China. The consul officer’s job is to focus on her status, not the status of her husband’s body.”
Aspenite Mary Ellen Danser found that position both repellent and “heartless.”
“It’s so tragic the way he was killed, he was basically murdered on our highway, and for people to not let his family in is unbelievable,” Danser said.
“Under the circumstances, the State Department should be looking for ways to let them come. If her son stays in China, how can someone believe she’d abandon him after so recently losing his father? So what’s the worst-case scenario? There’s one more person living in this country? But I can’t believe that would even happen.”
McInnis’ spokesman, Will Boss, noted U.S. relations with Beijing are “really touchy right now.” That could be a factor in the situation, he suggested.
Bos said the congressman’s office will first ask the family how it can best be of help before figuring out the next step.
“It’s a shame that politics can’t be put aside in times like this,” said Little Ollie’s regular Baird. “There are things that should be considered bigger than politics. I just think it’s humanly, morally wrong.”
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