karen refugees, esl class
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

This week on Local Motion, we explore learning English as a second language. First, we'll hear from University of Colorado, Boulder linguist Maria Thomas-Ruzic. She's worked in the ESL field for over 40 years. Thomas-Ruzic explains why English is a basic need for immigrants in the United States and the challenges adult learners face.

  • City of Montrose fronts almost a million dollars for new dispatch center
  • GED program in Norwood starts this month
  • State audit finds gambling funds were mismanaged
  • Refugees from Southeast Asia living in rural Colorado tackle the language barrier
karen refugees, esl class
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

As anyone who's ever taken a foreign language class knows, it’s hard to learn another language. For immigrants to this country, that challenge can affect their whole lives. According to census data, in 2013, there were more than 25 million people in the United States with limited English proficiency.  And, in Colorado's rural Delta County, a group of refugees from Southeast Asia is trying to overcome this barrier. 

It's illegal to employ immigrants without documents. But through voluntary work programs in detention centers, the federal government employs thousands of undocumented immigrants. "The government, which forbids everyone else from hiring people without documents, has effectively become the biggest employer of undocumented immigrants in the country," says Carl Takei, an attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project.

The pay for an eight hour shift in a detention center is $1 a day, or roughly 13 cents an hour.

Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles

As of Wednesday, it’s more expensive to get a driver’s license in Colorado.

The Colorado Division Motor Vehicles raised fees for driver services across the board.

It’s now $25 to get a driver’s license. It went up by four bucks. 

It also used to be free to retake the knowledge test or the driving skills test. Now, people have to pay to redo those exams. 

Additionally, the price of a license for an undocumented immigrant increased to about $80, nearly $30 more than last year. 

Daniel Majok Gai wants to go back to South Sudan.

He thinks he can help his homeland — the youngest nation in the world. Today marks the fourth anniversary of its independence. But there's little celebration. The country is being ripped apart by civil war.

Yet Gai, who suffered through years of violence and pain as a refugee, believes he can play a role in moving South Sudan toward peace and safety.

Against all odds, the 34-year-old is an incredible optimist.

He was 6 when a militia attacked his village.

Htoo Ler Moo, Karen refugees
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

Htoo Ler Moo was 7-years-old when his family arrived in a refugee camp in Thailand.

Before going to the camp, his family lived in a tiny village in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, where his parents worked in the fields.

In their village, they didn’t have electricity or running water. Htoo Ler Moo says they were safe until the soldiers came.

gavel, courtroom
Jake Ryan / KVNF

Two employees of the Hispanic Affairs Project, a Western Slope nonprofit, recently got certified to offer legal aid to immigrants. 

The organization is helping people who can’t afford to hire an attorney.  

"I’m an immigrant myself and I know how difficult, complicated and sometimes very frustrating the immigration process can be," said Marketa Zubkova with HAP. 

It took her two years to become an accredited legal representative.


  • SMPA to give back $1.7 million to customers
  • Mesa County checks to see if anyone watches public access
  • US Forest Service releases plan for beetle kill, aspen decline  
  • Gov. Hickenlooper signs DUI bill into law
  • Biking festival returns to Paonia
  • Grand Junction resumes issuing drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants 

The state’s Division of Motor Vehicles immigrant ID program is once again scheduling appointments. And next week the DMV will reopen two locations to handle applicants. 

The program started last year. It allows undocumented immigrants in Colorado to get a driver’s license, learner’s permit or ID card. 

Originally, five DMV locations offered these IDs . And, the program is self-sustaining through fees.

Laura Palmisano

This episode of Local Motion is a reporter's notebook from Atlanta. KVNF's Laura Palmisano traveled there last month for fellowship training. She is one of 15 journalists from across the U.S. selected by the Institute for Justice & Journalism (IJJ) for its 2015 fellowship on immigrant families.

In Atlanta, the fellows attended workshops and presentations put on by immigration experts, reporters and advocacy organizations. Palmisano brought her recording gear to interview presenters and other journalists. 

An appeals panel in Florida has upheld a deportation order against a former defense minister of El Salvador, who is alleged to have presided over human rights violations in that country, including the murders of four American churchwomen in 1980. Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova was allowed to retire in the U.S. in 1989. Now, a little known unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is trying to expel him as well as others charged with human rights abuses.

The political battle over immigration, now provoking a confrontation between Congress and the White House, touches all of us in one very direct way: our food. That salad mix, and those apples, may well have been harvested by workers who arrived here in the U.S. illegally.

Aleida Ramirez is proud of her old driver's license. It's faded and battered, held together by tape in two places, and it expired two years ago.

But Ramirez wouldn't think of throwing it out.

"Because it's my treasure," Ramirez says. "I mean, this is the only proof that I've been living in this state. This is the only proof that I have that I've been working hard, that I want to be here."

Colorado's new Republican Senate has majority flexed their muscles at the state capitol, using their power on the Joint Budget Committee to defund a 2013 law allowing people in the country illegally to obtain a state driver's license. They also struck down a bill to harmonize Colorado's civil unions law with a gay marriage ban that was deemed unconstitutional by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. On top of that, a commission looking at pay equity between men and women was struck down.

With split legislative control and Democrats in charge of the House, how will this impact both parties politically?

The executive actions that President Obama announced Thursday are wide-reaching and complicated. Even the top-line numbers — such as how many people will be affected — are tough to pin down, because they are based on estimates of a population that Obama himself has said is living the shadows.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



After four years in office Governor John Hickenlooper is facing the toughest campaign of his political career. A recent poll from The Denver Post shows his race against Republican former Congressman Bob Beauprez statistically tied. What's more, Beauprez is also making gains on Hickenlooper in the Denver metro area and in rural Colorado.

Former Republican Congressman Bob Beauprez is facing a close race against Governor John Hickenlooper in his gubernatorial bid. Back in 2006, he made several missteps in his campaign for governor, but in this 2014 run he's run a much tighter ship.

Mexico is helping some of its citizens apply for a controversial immigration program in the U.S. called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

Since the Obama administration created the program in 2012, more than 580,000 unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors have received temporary relief from deportation and been given work permits that last for at least two years.

The number of Central American children and families being apprehended at the U.S.-Mexican border has dropped dramatically in recent months, according to the U.S. Border Patrol. There has been a 60 percent decline in apprehensions of minors since the record numbers making the illegal trek earlier this summer.

A lot of factors may be contributing to the dramatic drop, including heavy rains along the migrant route and media campaigns in home countries dispelling rumors that kids can stay in the U.S.

In southwest Denver, a wave of immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador has settled in the neighborhoods around the intersection of Federal Boulevard and Alameda Avenue.

Billboards are in Spanish. Chile stands, taquerias and Asian noodle houses line the streets.

In a small office plaza across from a carniceria, a group of Latino activists are staging a press conference to roll out their Immigration Voter Accountability Project.

Gardening, farming
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

A program in Colorado's Delta County is helping immigrant women learn English, but they're not just sitting in a classroom studying grammar.

These women come from countries as close as Mexico and as far away as Myanmar (also known as Burma). And they're learning English on a farm where they also pick up tips on healthy eating and gardening on the Western Slope.

A Trip to the Farm

Since October more than 57,000 unaccompanied children from Central American countries have been detained at the U.S.-Mexican border.

Recent numbers from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement said more than 30,000 of these children have been release to sponsors, typically a parent or relative, in the United States.

The report showed 221 kids have been released to sponsors in Colorado between Jan. 1 and July 7.


  • Hickenlooper visits Craig & Rifle, Calls for Compromise on Greater Sage Grouse
  • DMEA Expects Hydroelectric Upgrades to Increase Efficiency, Save Money
  • Business Leaders Across State Call for Quick Immigration Reform
  • Looking at the Challenges of Sourcing Food Locally with Joel Salatin


  • Aurora Shooter James Holmes’ Parents Will Be Allowed to Watch Trial
  • Colorado Health Exchange Opens October First
  • Ouray City Councilor Gary Hansen Dies Succumbs to Cancer
  • Grand Junction Apartments Evacuated After Homemade Explosives Found
  • Pressure Is On for Colorado Republicans to Back Immigration Bill
  • iSeeChange Report: Ditch Lining and Wildlife


  • Prescribed burn on the Uncompahgre Plateau today and tomorrow
  • First legal hemp crop in Colorado planted
  • Innovative program in Carbondale helps immigrants join the melting pot
  • Anti-gas development film is free tonight at the Paradise
  • Tours of the valley from on high
  • What $50,000 can do for Thompson Divide


  • “Non-citizen” driver’s license bill passes Senate committee
  • Whooping cough breaks out in Garfield County
  • Can medical marijuana users buy guns? Some say no.
  • The strange tale of the U.S. government and helium
  • Western Slope Skies: The moon and its phases

A new survey shows that politicians in both parties may be missing the mark when it comes to courting the state’s crucial Hispanic voting bloc – which grew by 41 percent over the last decade. Bente Birkeland has more from the state capitol.