MATSUI AND COLLEAGUES LEAD EFFORT TO EXPAND AND IMPROVE LANGUAGE ASSISTANCE SERVICES AT FEDERAL AGENCIES

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 4, 2021 | George Hatamiya (916-201-5412)

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Today, Congresswoman Doris Matsui (CA-06) and Reps. Judy Chu (CA-27) and Sylvia Garcia (TX-29) led 46 colleagues in sending a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), urging the agency to reaffirm their commitment to expanding and improving language assistance services for the more than 25 million Limited English Proficiency (LEP) individuals currently living in the United States.

On February 17, 2011, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sent a memorandum to federal agencies, general counsels, and civil rights heads urging federal agencies to promote language access both internally and with respect to their federally conducted and assisted programs. The lawmakers are asking for the DOJ to reaffirm their commitment to these values by sending a similar letter.

“Since 2000, both the Bush Administration and Obama Administration have reaffirmed their commitment to Executive Order 13166 through the Office of the Attorney General,” the lawmakers wrote.

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration actively sought to reduce protections that provide access to interpretation and translation services for individuals with limited English proficiency.

“We now ask for the Department of Justice and the Biden Administration to reaffirm the federal government’s commitment to the implementation of Executive Order 13166 and urge fellow government agencies to review and update their Limited English Proficiency (LEP) policies, plans, and protocols to help expand and improve language assistance services for individuals with limited English proficiency,” the lawmakers continued. “We are committed to guaranteeing that LEP persons have meaningful access to programs, benefits, resources, and assistance provided by federal agencies and we look forward to working with you and your Administration to achieve this vital objective.”

The letter is endorsed by: UnidosUS, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), National Fair Housing Alliance, National Housing Resource Center, OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates, California Reinvestment Coalition, Center for Responsible Lending, National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low income clients), Woodstock Institute, Americans for Financial Reform, National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD), Empire Justice Center, National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA), Consumer Action, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), Coalition on Human Needs, Yolo County Children's Alliance, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA).

Full text of the letter is below and HERE.

Dear Attorney General Garland:

We write to respectfully encourage you to recommit the Department of Justice in supporting Executive Order 13166, "Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency". On February 17, 2011, former Attorney General Eric Holder sent a memorandum to federal agencies, general counsels, and civil rights heads urging federal agencies to promote language access both internally and with respect to their federally conducted and assisted programs. We ask that you send a similar letter reaffirming the Department of Justice’s commitment to expand and improve language assistance services for the more than 25 million Limited English Proficiency (LEP) individuals currently living in the United States.

Since 2000, both the Bush Administration and Obama Administration have reaffirmed their commitment to Executive Order 13166 through the Office of the Attorney General. The Trump Administration actively sought to reduce protections that provide access to interpretation and translation services for individuals with limited English proficiency. We now ask for the Department of Justice and the Biden Administration to reaffirm the federal government’s commitment to the implementation of Executive Order 13166 and urge fellow government agencies to review and update their Limited English Proficiency (LEP) policies, plans, and protocols to help expand and improve language assistance services for individuals with limited English proficiency.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Executive Order 13166 each require federal agencies and entities receiving federal funds to ensure equitable access to their programs and services. This requirement includes providing interpreters and translated documents to ensure that LEP individuals have meaningful access to vital benefits and assistance. While there are legal obligations that require federal agencies and recipients to provide language accessibility, a 2006 language access survey and an April 2010 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on language access at federal agencies exposed unequal commitment and application of comprehensive language access programs by federal agencies and their recipients. In response to the 2010 GAO report, former Attorney General Eric Holder recommitted DOJ in supporting Executive Order 13166 through a memorandum to all heads of DOJ components, establishing a departmental Language Access Working Group, revising the Department’s language access plan, and directing each component to create, implement, and post its language access plan online. On February 17, 2011, Attorney General Holder sent a memorandum to all federal agencies which urged them to similarly act to promote language access plans through their respective agencies. Unfortunately, there has been little effort to periodically evaluate and update federal agency LEP policies, plans, protocols, and services since the Obama Administration.

In order to ensure the federal government’s full compliance with Executive Order 13166 and provide meaningful language assistance services for individuals with limited English proficiency, we ask that you send a similar memorandum as AG Eric Holder sent in 2011 to federal agencies, general counsels, and civil rights heads regarding the Federal Government's Commitment to Language Access Obligations Under Executive Order 13166, which asks federal agencies to submit updated LEP plans and create an anticipated time frame for reevaluation of LEP plans by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. In addition, we ask that DOJ establishes a schedule to periodically evaluate and update federal agency LEP services and LEP policies, plans, and protocols.

We are committed to guaranteeing that LEP persons have meaningful access to programs, benefits, resources, and assistance provided by federal agencies and we look forward to working with you and your Administration to achieve this vital objective.

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