Monday, December 26, 2011
Help Me Howard: English Test
He loves to work, he has a license, and then he was told, 'If you don't pass this test in English, and keep working, you will go to jail.' Legally, can a government agency force you to take a test in English? It's why one man called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Petros Himargios came from Greece when he was 14.
Petros Himargios, Test Problem: "There's no stress, nothing like the U.S."
Petros came to America to work, and in fact, when he first arrived, he made that clear to a social worker who offered him government assistance.
Petros Himargios: "You know, so I got up from the chair, I ripped the book of the food stamps, and I said, 'I'm going to work. There is no way I can go to school and have the state feeding me,' and I've been working since then."
Petros is a proud man who became an American and created his own small power-washing business, cleaning and sealing driveways and roofs.
Petros Himargios: "Yes, I love it."
Then, he got a call from a Broward County inspector.
Petros Himargios: "Very nasty. She said, 'You know, you've been violating the rules.' I said, 'Not that I know of.'"
Petros told the woman, he has an occupational license, but she said he needed a special license to wash roofs and seal driveways, and if he didn't get it?
Petros Himargios: "'Well right now,' she said, 'you're looking at five years in jail.' I said, 'Excuse me?' 'Yeah, you're looking at five years in jail.'"
The Broward official then slapped Petros with a $500 fine and told him he better not work till he got the other license.
Petros Himargios: "And I said to her, 'Who's supposed to feed me? How am I supposed to survive here?' 'That ain't my problem.'"
Petros tried to study for the test to get the license, and it was clear: The fellow, who dropped out of school in Greece and started working in the U.S. when he was 14, could never pass a test in English.
Petros Himargios: "Because I can't read it very well, I can't understand it, because I never went to school."
Petros didn't pass the test in English, a language he speaks but cannot read or write well.
Now, he feels doomed, fearing he will have to shut down his Broward business and accept a government handout to survive.
Petros Himargios: "Yes, I was very frustrated. I almost cried, because it's not fair."
Well Howard, legally, can a person be forced to take a test in English if they cannot read it well?
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "This is one of the cornerstones of America: You cannot discriminate against someone because of their race, religion or national origin. Petros is from Greece, but he is an American citizen, and if a test is required, it has to be in a language he is comfortable with, whether it's Spanish, Chinese or Greek."
We then contacted Hipolito Cruz at Broward's Investigation and Enforcement Services.
He told us that Petros could take the test in Greek, that if he passed, the $500 fine would be wiped out.
When we explained that Petros never finished school, Cruz gave us another option: That he could go to the General Contractor Board, prove his expertise, and explain he won't be able to do well on a test because he didn't finish school in Greece or America. The board then has the option of granting him a license to allow him to keep working.
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "This is an example of a government agency working a little harder to do the right thing, to do the American thing. The Broward Enforcement and Investigation Services told us about a hearing few of us had heard of, and hopefully, it will help Petros get that license."
Petros will now plead his case before the board in January. Hopefully, they will let him keep working.
Petros Himargios: "Thanks to you guys. You guys did a good job."
Patrick Fraser: "We will keep an eye on Petros and let you know how it turns out. While government agencies have to administer a test in a language you are most comfortable with, federal law says so do private companies with 15 workers or more. So if you have trouble with English, you have options, and if you would do better if the test is given orally, ask. It can't hurt."
Having trouble expressing your frustrations? Translation: You might need us. Give us a call. We speak one language: The language of solutions.
CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:
EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org (Please include your contact phone number when emailing)
REPORTER: Patrick Fraser at email@example.com