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Language Access

Discrimination on the basis of language is national-origin discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and people with limited English proficiency are entitled to have meaningful access to, participate in, and benefit from federally funded programs and services. This collection of articles from the Clearinghouse Review archive explores issues with language access and highlights specific advocacy strategies to enforce language-access rights in federal and state courts, public benefits programs, and law enforcement.

Seen But Often Unheard

Limited-English-Proficiency Advocacy in Georgia

By Jana J. Edmondson & Lisa J. Krisher

Georgia Legal Services Program’s efforts to obtain, for the state’s large limited-English-proficient population, access to justice through direct and educational advocacy have been difficult because of Georgia’s antiimmigrant legislation, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Alexander v. Sandoval, and local aversion to following federal law. However, Georgia has two statutes creating rights to free interpreters, and the limited-English-proficient population has found allies at the Georgia Supreme Court and the U.S. Department of Justice. The program’s efforts are instructive for advocates grappling with Title VI enforcement in other states.

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Improvements in Language Access in the Courts, 2009 to 2012

By Matthew Longobardi & Laura K. Abel

The federal government and many states have improved courtroom access for limited-English-proficient litigants over the last few years. The U.S. Department of Justice has been very helpful in prompting the states to improve their programs. Advocates have also been instrumental in improving access; public interest lawyers, pursuant to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, have filed complaints that have given states extra motivation to fix problems quickly. Most state regimes still need improvement, but many are coming closer to the goal: a competent, free interpreter for every litigant who needs one in a civil or criminal case.

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Language Access 101

The Rights of Limited-English-Proficient Individuals

By Michael Mulé

Discrimination on the basis of language is national-origin discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and people with limited English proficiency are entitled to have meaningful access to, participate in, and benefit from federally funded programs and services. The U.S. Department of Justice is devoting increased attention to the language-access rights of limited-English-proficient individuals. Legal aid advocates should be prepared to help clients assert these rights and should ensure that advocates’ own services are linguistically accessible.

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Language Access in State Courts

By Laura K. Abel

An aspect of access to the courts is the provision of interpreters, at no cost, for persons with limited English proficiency. In some instances the right to an interpreter is rooted in the Constitution, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 imposes language-access requirements on state and county courts that receive federal funds. Advocates should learn whether their courts are in compliance and work to educate both legislators and the judiciary about language-access obligations.Copies of this article are

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How Coalitions Can Help Legal Aid Attorneys Improve Access for Their Limited-English-Proficient Clients

By Leticia Camacho & Gillian Dutton

Legal aid attorneys are increasing serving limited-English-proficient (LEP) clients bringing claims of discrimination based upon an inability to access an array of government services, such as public benefits, law enforcement, and the courts. While traditional litigation approaches may offer remedies for individual clients, a systemic advocacy involves the creation of coalitions to push for language accessibility for LEP persons. A coalition of this type was formed in Washington State, and it has produced positive results for that state’s LEP population.

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What You Need to Know About Advocacy for Limited-English-Proficient Elders

By Katharine Hsiao & Gerald A. McIntyre

Growing numbers of limited-English-proficient senior citizens frequently encounter language barriers when attempting to access government services and programs. Older people have a number of language-access rights under both federal and state law as well as under legal services program policies. Advocates should be aware of these rights and specific language-access problems related to the largest government agency regularly used by the elderly: the Social Security Administration.

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Enforcing Language Access Rights

Trends and Strategies

By Jane Perkins, Mary R. Mannix, Jack Daniel & Wanda Boonsurmsuwongse Hasadsri

For thirty years, federal civil rights policies have required federal agencies and federally funded entities to ensure that national-origin minorities with limited English proficiency have meaningful access to government services and activities. The mandate arises from Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Despite the U.S. Supreme Court's rollback of Title VI enforcement in Alexander v. Sandoval, Executive Order 13166 and Department of Justice guidelines continue to recognize language access requirements. Strategies to ensure language access include complaints to the Office for Civil Rights, negotiation with state and local agencies, and state and local legislation.

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