I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the tendency of major news outlets to refuse to use phrases such as “alien” or “illegal immigrant” and, thereby, to confuse the hell out of their readers:
Already, mainstream news pieces on this topic tend to leave me more confused than I was when I started. As a matter of habit, outlets such as the Associated Press and Reuters call illegal immigrants “migrants,” and people with fake papers “undocumented,” and deportees “non-citizens,” and, in so doing, flatten the key distinctions so dramatically that it becomes impossible to tell what is going on.
Today, the Washington Post provides a good example of this trend. The story is titled “Florida man promised immigrants licenses, work permits. Instead, he stole their money and got them deported.” The subhed is “Florida man Elvis Harold Reyes duped hundreds of immigrants as he led a ‘a life of frauds and swindles,’ prosecutors said.” And here’s how it opens:
In early 2018, a woman postponed cancer treatments so she could pay Elvis Harold Reyes more than $4,000 to sort out her immigration status and let her legally stay in Florida.
She was just one of hundreds of immigrants who turned to Reyes for driver’s licenses and work permits. He represented himself as a philanthropist lawyer and pastor who had learned immigration law as a former FBI agent and who gave back to the immigrant community through his nonprofit ministry.
Instead, according to prosecutors for the Middle District of Florida, he was leading “a life of frauds and swindles,” that led his victims to financial ruin — and even caused some to be deported.
Reyes, 56, was sentenced to more than 20 years in federal prison on Monday after pleading guilty to dozens of charges connected to a sophisticated scheme to con immigrants by filing fraudulent immigration documents and intercepting communications from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to conceal the fraud, all while stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“For years, Reyes exploited vulnerable immigrants in our community and vitiated our immigration system for personal profit,” federal prosecutors said in a sentencing memo last week.
The story is absolutely unreadable. Because the writer insists upon using the word “immigrant” throughout, irrespective of the detail, it is impossible to work out what is going on. Are the people in the story in America legally? Are they here illegally? Were they originally here legally, but then overstayed their visas? Are they in one category and hoping to find another? Are they here legally but with visas that are running out? Are they in the midst of hearings? It’s simply impossible to tell. I’ve read the piece five times now and, aside from understanding that Elvis Harold Reyes is a bad person, I have no real grasp of the nature of his scam, to whom he was doing it, and on what basis. This is ultimately a story about the law, and yet the author would rather flatten the English language into incomprehensibility than acknowledge that that law exists — and that it is pretty complicated to boot.