The harsh experience of coming to America, starting with a long queue in the freezing cold

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The Independent US

Officials at the Federal Building in downtown Manhattan try to make the experience a little less miserable. Because of the cold, they have put up a big tent in the courtyard where people can queue before beginning the process of settling in America. Like a motley wedding marquee, it is actually heated.

Officials at the Federal Building in downtown Manhattan try to make the experience a little less miserable. Because of the cold, they have put up a big tent in the courtyard where people can queue before beginning the process of settling in America. Like a motley wedding marquee, it is actually heated.

But by mid-morning yesterday the queue was stretching out of the tent. There were several hundred people from all over the world: East Europeans, Hispanics, Asians and Africans. Those left outside stamped their feet for warmth.

Among them, in heavy coats and woollen hats, Wilson Moran, from Ecuador, and his wife, whose first name happens to be America. In a pushchair sits their one-year-old son, Kevin - he was born in the US and has citizenship, but his parents came here on tourist visas. When asked if they are here legally, Wilson cracks a smile and says: "Half and half."

He says they want to stay in the US because: "My country has a problem, the President takes everyone's money, and life here will be better." For now, the couple are living in Queens and have work removing asbestos from an old industrial building.

This is the modern Ellis Island, the place where thousands of would-be immigrants come week after week to seek refuge. All carry their dreams of living in the land of opportunity. But few realise them.

Coming to America can be a harsh experience and queuing here is just the start.

Those queuing could talk, for instance, to Hui Rong Ma. Now 23 and working as a legal assistant in a prestigious law firm on the Avenue of Americas, she came from Canton in southern China when she was six. She has a degree in East Asian Studies from Wesleyan University in Connecticut and speaks flawless English. She is, by most measures, making it.

But her family's journey has been one of hardship and disappointment. It has all been worth it for the two children, Hui and her brother, but for her mother and father it may not have been. In 1978, her grandfather, a bank teller in a town in Canton, came to America and to the Federal Building in New York. "He had a hard time with all the paperwork. But finally it worked out," she recalled. "He got a job as a tailor in a clothing factory. He had to totally demote himself when he came to America."

The grandfather's first priority was to get the two sons he left behind and their wives to join him. At last they were allowed to come, in July 1983. The grandfather found restaurant work in Manhattan's Chinatown for one, but nothing for the other, Hui's father. They settled in a tiny rented apartment in the Bronx.

Fifteen years on, little has changed for Hui's parents. They are still in the apartment they can barely afford. Her father skips from restaurant to restaurant in Chinatown cleaning fish. Her mother sews in a factory. Neither of her parents speaks any English.

Do her parents think they were wrong to leave their homeland? "All their efforts were for my brother and me. They didn't need America, but we did," she said.

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