Jose Pimentel is a proud American citizen. But 20 years ago, Pimentel was a scared 23-year-old dodging a rancher’s bullets, he says, as he bolted across the U.S. border, following a 13-year-old …
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What is the correct way for news reports to refer to someone who immigrates illegally?
The terminology is dictated by the Associated Press Stylebook, which is the definitive style and usage guide employed by journalists to standardize language.
The stylebook recommended the term “illegal immigrant” until 2013, when editors changed the style to labeling actions rather than people. The stylebook’s entry today reads in part:
“illegal immigration: Entering or residing in a country without authorization in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.
Do not use the terms alien, an illegal, illegals or undocumented (except when quoting people or government documents that use these terms).”
Paul Colford, the Associated Press’s former vice president of media relations, wrote in 2013 that “we had in other areas been ridding the Stylebook of labels. The new section on mental health issues argues for using credibly sourced diagnoses instead of labels. Saying someone was ‘diagnosed with schizophrenia’ instead of ‘schizophrenic,’ for example.
“And that discussion about labeling people, instead of behavior, led us back to ‘illegal immigrant’ again.”
“We concluded that to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance.”
The terminology remains a subject of hot debate among journalists and readers.
Why did Jose Pimentel sneak into the U.S.? Why not get in line and wait his turn?
In short, he said, his options for legal immigration were limited — borderline impossible.
“It wasn’t like you could just go down to the consulate and ask for a work visa,” Pimentel said. “If you don’t have family in the United States, you have to have a job waiting for you, and that applies mostly to skilled workers. Even for short-term visas, they want to see that you own a home in Mexico, and that you already have a lot of money. They want to see that you have things that will bring you back.”
Pimentel’s dilemma rings true, said Glaucia Rabello, who runs the Immigrant Resource Center in Littleton.
“There are so many undocumented immigrants because they simply don’t qualify for any visas,” Rabello said. “If you’re a young person who makes minimum wage in Mexico, chances are you’re just not getting in legally. People say to ‘get in line,’ but there might not be a line to get in.”
Some agencies do recruit workers in Latin America, but the jobs are seasonal and often only open to college students or others with strong ties to their home country, Rabello said.
A strong American economy only exacerbates the situation, she said.
“When the economy is booming, there’s a clash,” Rabello said. “More people want to come, but they tighten enforcement. In bad years, like in 2008 or 2009 at the start of the recession, illegal immigration dropped off sharply.”
The allure of America is hard to resist for those mired in intractable poverty and watching their families struggle, Rabello said.
“The world is a refugee camp,” she said. “Everywhere is complicated. We can’t take everybody, but every day in the news they see stories of how everyone in America has a job, how good we have it here. Where are you supposed to go? What would you do if your family was going hungry? Would you break laws to help them? We can try to understand.”
Immigrants seeking citizenship must pass a 100-question exam administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Some of the questions:
1. What does the Constitution do?
2. What is an amendment?
3. How many amendments does the Constitution have?
4. We elect a U.S. Senator for how many years?
5. The House of Representatives has how many voting members?
6. What are two Cabinet-level positions?
7. There are four amendments to the Constitution about who can vote. Describe one of them.
8. The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S. Constitution. Name one of the writers.
Jose Pimentel is a proud American citizen.
But 20 years ago, Pimentel was a scared 23-year-old dodging a rancher’s bullets, he says, as he bolted across the U.S. border, following a 13-year-old “coyote,” or human smuggler, into the Arizona night.
Pimentel’s journey to citizenship was a rare one — the vast majority of undocumented immigrants are ineligible for citizenship, which Pimentel qualified for after marrying an American citizen and getting a “green card.” But he owes much of his success to the Littleton Immigrant Resources Center, which by this fall will have helped nearly 800 people become Americans since 2012.
“The LIRC helped me from beginning to end,” said Pimentel, a diesel mechanic at Denver International Airport who now regularly volunteers at the center, doing administrative tasks and tutoring other seekers of citizenship. “I wanted to be a greater part of the United States, to vote, and to give back more to the country. The LIRC walked me through every step of the process, and it’s a complicated one.”
Tucked in a group of old study rooms on the lower level of Bemis Public Library, the LIRC offers a vast array of services to would-be Americans: oversight and advice on the process of citizenship, English lessons, assistance filling out forms, appointment setting and connections with other immigrant service organizations.
The LIRC’s services are increasingly important as the federal government under the Trump administration tightens requirements to achieve citizenship, said Glaucia Rabello, the center’s director.
“It’s getting really hard,” Rabello said. “They’re strictly enforcing every restriction they can. They are denying more people who apply for naturalization. Before, they might let you skate a little bit on the requirement to read, write and speak English. That’s not the case anymore.”
The LIRC only assists people who already have legal permanent resident status, or “green cards,” make the final step into citizenship, Rabello said. The center does not assist immigrants who remain undocumented, nor does it help immigrants get green cards.
For many immigrants, though, the LIRC’s flexibility makes all the difference. Whereas immigration attorneys can charge thousands of dollars to prepare forms and offer legal assistance, Rabello said, the LIRC provides many services on a sliding scale, with some citizenship application classes costing as little as $10.
Money is one of the big barriers to achieving citizenship, Rabello said, as federal fees stack up.
“We have a lot of clients who are refugees from South Sudan,” Rabello said. “Every spare dollar they have, they send back home, so their families don’t starve.”
The center offers English tutoring, which clears a hurdle for even longtime American residents.
“If you’re working 12 hours a day and commuting between two jobs, when do you have time to go study English?” Rabello said. “Many people come here with little or poor education, and we expect them to know not just English but civics. We’ll work with their schedule. You can only meet with a tutor late on a Saturday night? Fine, we’ll make it happen.”
The LIRC started in 2005 as an outgrowth of the Littleton Leadership Retreat, a community brainstorming group, according to the center’s website. Initially, the center primarily connected immigrants with community resources in a limited manner, but in 2012 it received a $250,000 grant from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to greatly expand its offerings.
The center now must compete with other similar programs across the nation every two years to renew the grant, which is matched by the city. The money supports five staff members and a host of other services. Volunteers like Pimentel provide vital support.
Volunteering at the center is a way to share the blessings of life in America, said Kathryn Ballinger, a retired attorney from Bow Mar who started helping out at the center nine months ago.
“I think we forget how lucky we are and what our roots are,” Ballinger said. “This felt like a good way to be a friendly face and to counter the less-welcoming messages out there right now.”
Ballinger said she’s been heartened to get to know the center’s clients.
“The people we work with are lovely,” Ballinger said. “They’re hard-working, well-intentioned and family-oriented.”
Citizenship means a better connection to family for many immigrants, said Jose Herrera-Rodriguez, who took the oath of citizenship at age 67 on July 5, thanks to help from the LIRC.
“Now that I’m not saving up for citizenship, I can afford go see my children in Mexico,” said Herrera-Rodriguez, who had been working toward citizenship for 18 years. “Well, they’re not exactly children anymore.”
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