Language Dilemma: Civil Rights, Security and Budget Constraints!

istockphoto_7401018-translateLast month, the US Federal and State Governments weighed the impact of language services on enforcing Civil Right and Security against growing deficits and budget constraints. Here is a summary of what transpired and the different ongoing arguments.

Language services in public schools
NY – June 20th, 2012: Legal advocacy groups joined parents whose first language is not English in Lower Manhattan to announce a complaint filed with the federal Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. Advocates for Children and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest said the lack of services is hindering tens of thousands of parents from becoming involved with their children’s special education programs.

NC – June 12th, 2012 – Two advocacy groups filed a federal civil rights complaint accusing the Wake County, N.C., school system of discriminating against Latino families with limited English skills by not sending them important documents in Spanish. “Wake County public schools must end this discrimination and recognize that these students and their parents have the same right as English-speaking students,” Caren Short, a staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a written statement. “This is about ensuring every student in the district has the right to succeed.”

MI – June 1st, 2012 – The federal agreement requires Dearborn Public Schools to step up the services it provides to students and families who speak a different language at home. District officials are going to do things like translating more paperwork and ensuring families understand and can access extracurricular activities.

Language services and the federal government
TN – June 13th, 2012 – The message from the federal government to Tennessee was clear: Provide free translation services to all non-English speakers in court or lose billions in federal funding. “Somebody’s got to pay,” said Mary Rose Zingale. “Sometimes it’s the county, sometimes it’s the parties, sometimes it may be pro bono. The judge will make the assessment.”

WA – June 3rd, 2012 – The Forest Service was ordered to institute civil rights training, develop a policy on data collection regarding traffic stops, report annually to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) civil rights office and provide bilingual staff and telephonic and radio interpretation services. This was after a complaint was filed by Northwest Immigrant Rights Project on behalf of a Latino woman citing six instances of alleged civil rights violations through use of Border Patrol agents as interpreters.

Security vs. tightening budgets
VA – June 11, 2012 – U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to stop taxpayer dollars from funding unlimited translation services at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  The agency was required to provide written and oral interpretation services in any language requested by the public under a Clinton-era executive order (EO 13166).  “The assimilation component doesn’t take place if you facilitate foreign language speaking within government,” Rep. King said. “87% of Americans support this policy – the policy of English as the official language.  There is nothing in it that prevents Justice or emergency services from using language services from taking care of the people.”

Civil Rights Act
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 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.” This applies to everyone with limited English proficiency (LEP) while interacting with any federal agency, or institution that receives funding from federal programs.

Sensible Solution
With the advent of online translation portals connecting budget-conscious translation buyers with translators, government agencies can satisfy current law and cut their costs by avoiding using contractors and instead working directly in these cost-effective online translation solutions.

Want to opine on the matter of how to balance civil rights and security concerns against tightening budgets and rampant deficits?
We are interested in hearing your views.
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