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Three Things to Know about Language Access

Three things you need to know about language access

Language Access means providing Limited English Proficient (LEP) people with reasonable access to the same services as English-speaking individuals

LEPs refers to individuals who are not fluent in, or have difficulty communicating in, English. While most LEP individuals are immigrants, nearly 4.7 million were born in the US.  Without language access, we deprive individuals of their dignity and reject our moral, and oftentimes legal, obligations. Implementation of language access legislation starts as early as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, where under the Title VI Act, states that “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Moreover, language access legislation was further enforced under President Bill Clinton’s Executive Order 13166 in 2000, known as Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency to Federal Agencies. The executive Order requires all federal agencies to establish guidelines on providing meaningful access to LEP individuals in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and to issue guidelines to recipients of their funding to clarify what they must do to provide meaningful access to LEP persons.

Language Access legislation varies state by state. There are three federal laws that provide LEP individuals competent language access resources

These laws include:  Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1975, and Executive Order 13166. Particularly in D.C, LEP individuals are also protected under the D.C Language Access Act. Under the D.C Language Access Act, D.C government agencies are required to provide written translations of vital documents into majority   languages (e.g.,Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese) 3% or 500 people) in DC. It also requires D.C government agencies with public contact to designate a Language Access Coordinator to develop and implement the language access plan. Additionally, it also requires D.C government agencies to develop and implement a language access plan.

The LEP population represented 8 percent of the total U.S. population ages 5 and older.

Furthermore, the migrant community within the immigration system is deeply affected by LAP policies in the immigration system. In fact, the presence of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) individuals in the immigration system is widespread. Approximately 89% of migrants in immigration court hearings received their hearings in a language other than English in 2018. Existing LAP tools and policies across agencies assume migrant populations have the literacy abilities to review processing forms and resources written in their native language, but that’s not always the case. The Migration Policy Center found that 40 percent of migrant populations in the United States lack basic literacy. Among indigenous language speakers, this number drops to the 20th and 30th percentile, meaning that indigenous speaking migrants from regions such as Central America face another obstacle understanding immigration protocols like the removal and asylum process


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