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Today's word on journalism

January 13, 2009


"I get the feeling that the 24-hour news networks are like the bus in the movie 'Speed.' If they stop talking for a second, they think they'll blow up."

--Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, 2008 (Thanks to alert WORDster Ross Martin)

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Invisible and illegal, teenage immigrants work hard to fit in

By Seth Bracken

December 10, 2008 | LOGAN -- Maria Gomez could have been your waitress at one point. She could be your friend. You could have run into her at the store. This 17-year-old girl would blend into a crowd and you never would guess that she is in the United States illegally.

"I have been here for 10 years now," said Gomez, who asked that her real name not be used. "We crossed the border on a bridge. My father knew someone that allowed us to cross."

When she first arrived, she didn't understand the language, the culture or why she was here.

"I didn't like it. I hated it. I grew up in a family society and I didn't care about the wealth, I'd have given anything to go back," she said. "But my family depended on me and my ability to learn English."

It took years for Gomez to learn the language and she says she didn't understand what was going for about three years. However, now she has no accent and even says that she speaks English just as well, if not better than Spanish. She has grown to love her new home; however, it still has its difficulties.

"I can't slack as much as other people do. I've got to work harder than everybody," she says.

Gomez is about to graduate from high school and is an upstanding student. She also works part-time as a waitress at a restaurant in Logan.

"Maria is an excellent employee," said her manager. "She always goes the extra mile and is always so happy. She always has the will to work, never called in sick, never needed anyone to cover for her."

According to a survey conducted in 2006 by USA Today, approximately 10 percent of students in Utah are of Hispanic origin, and many have stories similar to that of Gomez. They come to the United States with their families in search for more work and a better lifestyle. However, the process to become a legal citizen and to stay here legally is more difficult than you may think.

"Many people think that immigration is so easy," said Leo Bravo, director of the Cache Valley Multi-Cultural Center. "If you don't fit the requirements, you're out. If you came here after April 2001, or filed your paperwork after that date, there is nothing that can help you right now."

Bravo explained that without a direct relative who is a citizen and over the age of 21, there is very little chance of gaining citizenship right now. And while the public school systems allow for them to continue attending classes, there are problems when they reach college.

"They cannot apply for a scholarship. They cannot receive any public help," said Bravo.

This includes federal loans and grants. They have to look for scholarship funds through private groups only.

"I don't like to give numbers of how many illegal students we have, but there are a lot," said Bravo.

Gomez has applied to several universities; however, because she is here illegally, she will not know if she is accepted until July 2009, one month before the semester starts. She also said that she has to make an appearance before a judge to receive clearance to be accepted to the university.

It is very difficult for many students to adjust to the new society and even more difficult for them to go on, get a college education and a well paying job. According to a study done by the New York Times, in America illegal immigrants accounted for 24 percent of farm workers, 17 percent of cleaning workers and 14 percent of construction workers. These are low-income jobs that do not require a college degree, or much technical training. They are forced to take the lower-paying jobs because of a lack of education and training.

According to the Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 63 percent of Hispanic students graduate from high school, and only 17 percent pursue an education beyond that. However, the national average is much higher than that. Overall, 71 percent of all students graduate from high school and 67.2 percent of them attend college.

The difference between the two is stark, and it is clear that it is much less likely that Hispanic students will graduate from high school, and even less likely that they will continue on to purse a higher education.

Maria Gomez has adapted to her new lifestyle very well, and is planning on becoming a nurse, despite the obstacles that she has to face.

"I wish that I could get people to see that Mexicans are not just trouble makers," said Gomez. "We're not bad people. I try to blend in. I really do."

There are many people that are here illegally, and you wouldn't be able to tell, not even by their accent. They are trying to fit in, trying to get a job, trying to provide for their families. Many of them are students, trying to make their lives here, just as many have done in the long history of this country.


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