Miami hairstylist Lilia Torres walks three houses down every morning before work to check on her mother, Maria Fernandes. She worries about her.
Fernandes is 78. She was born in Cuba but came to the United States legally seven years ago. She has a Green Card. Nothing is amiss with her status.
But, in a telephone interview with Sunshine State News Torres said her mother is consumed with fear. “She believes President Trump wants to take her Green Card away, force her out of the home my husband and I bought for her and send her back to Cuba.”
Why would she think that?
Torres says the Trump White House “has her crazy. They “no habla español,” she said. “My mother used to get on the Internet and be comforted by the White House website. I taught her to go there. But President Trump has taken away Spanish-language messages. Once in a while you find something in Spanish but there are misspellings and bad grammar. Now I learn they’re doing away with the White House website.
“My mother believes Immigration agents are going to come for her any day and rip up her Green Card. I tell her they can’t do that, don’t be silly, but she is so full of fears.”
Actually, it’s true they no habla español at the White House — and haven’t since WhiteHouse.gov/español went dark less than 24 hours after Donald Trump took office. There is no more director of Hispanic media outreach, that position has been eliminated. And according to Salon magazine, “its Spanish-language Twitter account is heavy with English text and features sloppy translations.”
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in January the administration had its “IT folks working overtime” to get a new Spanish language site up and running. “Trust me, it’s going to take a little bit more time, but we’re working piece by piece to get that done,” Spicer said at the time.
A little bit more time is right. WhiteHouse.gov/español still greets visitors with a “STAY TUNED” message.
“Maybe President Trump doesn’t like it because President Obama kept (the website) running so well,” suggested Torres.
Maybe. But the Spanish language website was a creation of a Republican, not a Democratic administration.
The site was the brainchild of George W. Bush. At the turn of the century Bush said he wanted to communicate especially with the “sons and daughters, wives and husbands, parents and grandparents of all American troops serving on foreign soil — we don’t want to leave anybody in the dark about their loved ones if we can help it.” The site expanded and when his time came, Obama kept the tradition going.
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Helen Aguirre Ferre, White House director of media affairs, reminded SSN the Obama administration took nine months to launch its version, so people should be patient. She said she expects a Spanish-language website to debut in the fall. “Our priority is to improve the English language website,” Ferre said.
However, Javier Palomarez, president of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a vocal critic of Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, told Associated Press in a July 3 story he has been pleasantly surprised by the administration’s other Hispanic outreach efforts.
While Spanish-language communication is “important in terms of optics,” he said, “at the end of the day, where the rubber meets the road for us and what matters to us is what kind of policy are you enacting, are you engaged with us.”
Palomarez said his members’ conversations with the White House have been “constant, consistent and ongoing,” with numerous in-person meetings with White House and Cabinet officials, including Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and weekly phone calls with Jennifer Korn, deputy director for the White House Office of Public Liaison.
“They have been more than willing to talk to us and engage us,” he told AP. “This is the same level or more access that we had with the Obama administration.”
Torres, nevertheless, doesn’t like the snail-like process of creating a website that could do nothing but comfort Hispanic residents like her mother.”These are difficult times for people like us with family who are old and whose English is not perfect. My mother has the books and materials to be a U.S. citizen, she loves America. But she still struggles with English and gets embarrassed when she can’t understand it like her native language.”
Torres still recalls Trump chastising presidential candidate Jeb Bush during the campaign for answering a reporter’s question in Spanish, saying the former Florida governor “should really set the example by speaking English while in the United States.”
“My mother and her friends are trying to speak English. They get together and work at it. But they are old and don’t think it’s good enough. They believe the president won’t let them stay if they fail the citizenship test because they don’t understand a question. …”
Said Torres, “The sooner they get that website up and running, the better for a lot of us.”
Rather than wait for the White House, Torres and Fernandes might want to check out a strong effort from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which launched its Twitter handle @ICEespanol earlier this year.
Reach Nancy Smith at [email protected] or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith