Language Access Is Essential To Our Democracy
“E Pluribus unum”. – Great Seal of the United States
Translation from Latin: Out of many, One.
Imagine. You arrive home after a long day of work to receive an official looking notice. The words looked like this image below.
What does it say? It’s official looking. Are you in trouble? Are you being summoned? Or it could be from your child’s school. Is your child doing well? Who can you turn to translate this official document? Are you concerned? Stressed? This is the experience of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who are “Limited English Proficient” speakers in Connecticut.
According to a 2018 American Immigration Council study, immigrants accounted for 15 percent of Connecticut population. One in seven Connecticut residents is an immigrant. Over half are naturalized citizens and a significant number apply to become citizens every year. Immigrant led households paid $2.6 billion in state and local taxes, generated over $1.2 billion in business revenue, and contributed $16.1 billion of after-tax dollars to the state’s economy. The contribution of Connecticut’s immigrant population is undeniable, yet many cannot fully participate as Connecticut citizens because the State of Connecticut does not provide full language access to its government agencies.
For over twenty years, the Federal government has provided language access to persons with Limited English Proficiency. In August of 2000, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13166, “Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency” (link https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/crt/legacy/2010/12/14/eolep.pdf ) The Executive Order requires Federal agencies to examine the services they provide, identify any need for services to those with limited English proficiency, and develop and implement a system to provide those services so that Limited English Proficient persons can have “meaningful access” to them.
After over twenty years, it is time for Connecticut government to follow the example of the federal government. Limited English Proficient immigrants interact with state and local governments in many important aspects of daily life, including being summoned to serve on juries, paying taxes, going to parent teacher conferences, voting, creating new businesses and understanding their obligations. The lack of language access has barred these many from becoming full participants in our state. We must urge our governmental representatives to end this crippling barrier by enacting legislation to make government accessible to all.
Sylvia Ho is a Business Attorney in Farmington and a member of the advisory board to the General Assembly’s CWCSEO.