Reno immigration office workers don’t speak Spanish
RENO — The only two information officers at the Immigration and Naturalization Service office in Reno cannot speak Spanish and a spokesman for Sen. John Ensign said his office is making the agency aware of complaints it is receiving from the Hispanic community.
Officials acknowledged a problem but said regulations do not require Spanish speakers in the information position.
“What we’ve got are probably more situations where people don’t speak any English and that puts us in a position of getting complaints,” said Russell Ahr, special assistant to the district director of the INS in Phoenix.
About 105 people approach the counter daily for information on extending their stays in the United States or becoming permanent residents. Although the INS does not keep the statistics, a high percentage of them speak Spanish, said Ahr.
There are 49,360 Hispanics living in Washoe County, according to the 2000 U.S. Census figures. The number of those who do not speak English or do not speak it well is 12,232, or 24.8 percent of the Hispanic population, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported on Monday.
Jack Finn, communications director for Ensign, said the issue is a concern for the senator.
“We cannot get into the business of micromanaging the INS, however we have let them know,” Finn said.
Sen. Harry Reid’s office agreed the INS should be more aware of its clients’ needs.
Reid spokeswoman Tessa Hafen said, “He hopes that with the new INS reorganization, these factors will be taken under consideration to ensure the highest quality of operations at all levels of the INS from enforcement to immigrant services.”
Woody Wright, an immigration lawyer for Nevada Hispanic Services, said he has seen people in the INS lobby who were unable to get assistance because they did not speak English.
“They either have no one with them at the time they go to the window or they need to get someone while they’re standing there,” Wright said.
Ahr said the plan is to “wean” the public from going to INS offices to ask questions or get forms, and direct them instead to use the Internet or a bilingual toll-free number.
“Our customer service areas are notorious for being problematic,” Ahr said.
For those who want to go to the office but do not speak English, Lois Chappell, officer in charge of the Reno sub-office, suggested they bring a friend or family member to translate.
But Carina Black, executive director for the Northern Nevada International Center, said the INS should have a budget for interpreters.
“We believe everyone who comes to America should speak English,” said Black, whose agency provides interpreters in 40 different languages. “Well, that’s not reality. And though they don’t speak English, in many cases they are eligible for services of English-speaking people.”