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Washington Lawyer: Language Barriers to Justice

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Many of us have experienced the frustration of coming up against a language barrier, whether in a foreign country or right in the United States. Fortunately, these are usually temporary situations. For limited English proficient (LEP) and non-English proficient (NEP) individuals, however, the constant struggle to communicate can seem insurmountable and have serious consequences.

Jong Yeol Lee found this out in January 2008 when police arrived at 3 a.m. at his Virginia home to arrest him on a District of Columbia warrant. According to Lee, who is a Korean-speaking permanent U.S. resident with limited English skills, he was unable to communicate with the arresting officers and was not provided an interpreter during the four days he was held at a detention center in Fairfax County, or when he was transferred to a station in the District. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) released Lee within several hours without charges after determining that his arrest had been a mistake.

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Note: A color PDF copy of the article is available in the Library,

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