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OR: Law requires language help to non-English speakers even in less diverse areas

Thursday, August 19, 2010

PORTLAND, OREGON - Carol Forsloff - “Justice requires that all individuals have meaningful access to the critical services provided by the nation’s state court systems, regardless of the individual’s English language skills."
Oregon Supreme Court courtroom Oregon supreme court courtroom, wikimedia commons

This statement by Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, underlines the requirement of the nation's civil rights laws that people who don't speak English be given language support when involved with virtually everything having to do with the courts.

Oregon is one of those states with a growing Hispanic population. The state is required by law to give its non-English speaking residents language support in the courts.

Despite the fact Oregon's Hispanic population is growing, overall its flagship city, Portland, has limited diversity. "The upshot is that the Portland metro area is startlingly white viewed against the national landscape -- even whiter than Salt Lake City, according to the latest Census Bureau estimates. Metro Portland includes Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas and Clark counties.. "as LiveLeak underlines and the Oregonian has affirmed.

Regardless of the fact, diversity is less in Portland, Oregon than in other urban areas, some teachers in the public schools worry that the entrenchment of Spanish makes it difficult and requires teachers learn Spanish. In other areas of the community other people complain about the same issue.

Not long ago, an interview with a retired teacher found frustration over language differences to be considerable. Asking a journalist not to give her identity, the teacher spelled out the problem as this:

"I had trouble communicating with some of my students, a number of which that had come with their parents across the border without English language skills. While many students will be learning English, there are still a minority who either have trouble learning a different language or who demand extra support because they won't learn English, it presents a problem.

Not only are some teachers frustrated, these days a lot of advertisements for work in helping communities, such as state social service agencies, require workers have dual language capability with both English and Spanish. This is true in welfare offices as well as in those agencies involved with the courts.

But this is because state agencies receive federal funds also and are under specific guidelines about language support that has to be provided non-English proficient individuals.

In an announcement by the Department of Justice yesterday, a guidance letter was sent to the states regarding their obligation to provide language access.

The Justice Department today issued a letter to chief justices and administrators of state courts underlying the obligation of courts that receive federal financial assistance to provide oral interpretation, written translation and other language services to people who are limited English proficient (LEP).

This month is the 10th anniversary of Executive Order 13166 which requires federal agencies to ensure that recipients of federal financial assistance comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by providing meaningful access to LEP persons.

The directive from the Justice Department includes instruction on how people are to be given help with forms, information and special services related to the courts. This comes out of the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act (Safe Streets Act), and their implementing regulations.

The letter explains that applicable civil rights laws require courts receiving federal financial assistance to provide meaningful access to all civil, criminal or administrative hearings, at no charge to LEP individuals. It further explains that such access should be extended to LEP parties and other LEP individuals whose presence or participation is appropriate to the court proceedings, which includes activities outside the courtroom by court managed service providers.

That would be parole, probation and social service workers. Education receives money as well, which is why there is language support in the public schools as well as in the courts.

Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division spoke in recognition of the directive on providing language support to LEP individuals. “As we mark the 10th anniversary of the issuance of Executive Order 13166 this month, it is especially appropriate to remember our shared responsibility to reduce persistent language barriers in court proceedings and services that are of such importance to the daily lives of parties, victims, witnesses and the public.”

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