People Underestimate the Value of a Good Ramble

Monday, April 25, 2011

To Speak English or Not to Speak English

I read an article about a little girl who was stuck in Guatemala for several weeks because she was denied admission into the US to be with her parents.

But that's not exactly what happened.  Apparently, her parents are illegal immigrants and their 4 yr old child had been visiting with her grandparents for a few months.  When her grandfather tried to bring her back to her parents he was stopped (at Dulles, I believe) for some 20 year old issue with his visa. This is where it gets sticky.

Officials say they contacted the parents and gave them some options. They could come get their child, they could send someone else to come get the child, the child could be placed into some sort of social services care until they got her or she could go back to Guatemala with her grandfather.

According to the parents of the child, their daughter could either go back with the grandfather or she would be placed in foster care.

Part of the problem here is that the man - although he has been in this country (illegally, I might add) since 1996 - doesn't speak English well enough to understand what choices he was being offered.  His attorney feels it was the government official's responsibility to provide someone who could interpret for them. Presumably at the cost of the government (and for that phrase, you should always read "At the taxpayers expense") but I think if your child is at stake, you should find your own interpreter.

Look, I'm no fan of the government, but in this instance, I don't think they did the wrong thing.  They didn't want to let the man into the country and they have every right to keep him out. The only issue was what to do with a 4 yr old, who could clearly not be left on her own. They asked the parents and were told to send her back to Guatemala.

The part of this story that most upsets me, though, is the fact that these parents, who have been living here since 1996 - that's 15 years! - still couldn't speak enough English to have a pretty straight forward conversation with a government official.

I went to France once, about 10 years ago. I was only there for 5 days, but I took the time to learn some rudimentary French before I went. I got a CD and spent about two weeks learning phrases. I'm no language expert, but I think I did pretty well. I was our official interpreter for the trip. Seriously.  I certainly wasn't fluent or anything, but I could hold a basic conversation. After studying only two weeks at maybe 1/2 hour a day. If I had 15 years of living in France, I'd be fluent. Very, very fluent.

And don't try to say that if you're younger, it's easier to learn. I was not that young. (I was in my late 30's actually, but if you tell anyone, I'll have to hurt you.) Also, I had never taken any French in school or anything like that, unless you count that one day (I think it was in 7th or 8th grade) when my friend and I were so bored with a study hall period, we convinced the French teacher to let us sit in on a class cause we were thinking of changing over from Spanish. But honestly, can you really count anything that happened back in the 70s?

People, I have no problem if you want to live in the United States. It's an amazing place and I'm happy to live here myself. I even understand why some people come here illegally. I wish they didn't, but I understand.  All that being said, once you get here, you should try to do whatever you need to do to become legal.

Or at least to learn the language.

Of course, another issue raised is the fact that the parents could have faced deportation themselves if they went to pick up their child. So maybe they understood just fine.

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