The Attorney General Wants to Better Help Those With Limited English Proficiency
It's been over a decade since the department encouraged agencies to strengthen this commitment, Merrick Garland says.
From taxes to passports to Social Security and more, people have to engage with federal agencies for a range of services and the Justice Department is looking to improve access for individuals with limited English proficiency.
Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memo on Monday to federal agencies, and their heads of civil rights offices and general counsels on updating and improving their language access responsibilities, as outlined in an executive order issued in August 2000. He noted it's been over a decade since the department urged agencies to hone this commitment and while there has been much process, there is more to be done.
“All people in this country, regardless of the language they speak, deserve meaningful access to programs and activities that are conducted or supported by federal agencies,” Garland said in a statement. “The Justice Department is committed to working with our federal partners to address linguistic barriers in governmental services that deny individuals a full opportunity to participate in economic, social, and civic life.”
The Census Bureau reported in September that from 2009 to 2019 the portion of the U.S. population 5-years-old and up speaking a different language from English at home increased from 20% and 22%. Meanwhile, the share of the population speaking English “very well” decreased from 9% to 8%.
Garland asked the assistant attorney general for civil rights, with help from the department’s recently appointed language access coordinator in the Office of Access to Justice, to share best practices and information with other federal agencies on their language initiatives.
Specifically, Justice officials will help determine “whether agencies can further update their language access policies and plans; whether agencies are effectively reaching individuals with limited English proficiency when disseminating information about federal resources, programs, and services; whether agencies have considered updates or modifications to guidance to federal financial assistance recipients regarding their obligations to provide meaningful language access under the requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its implementing regulations; and whether agencies can adapt their digital communications to welcome individuals with limited English proficiency,” Garland wrote in the memo.
Additionally, the assistant attorney general for civil rights will ask agencies to give an updated language access plan within 180 days of the memo’s issuance.
This effort builds on previous efforts from the Justice Department to assist individuals with limited English proficiency, such as a new focus in the department’s 2022-2026 strategic plan on expanding language access services (published in July); Garland’s appointment of Ana Paula Noguez Mercado as the department’s Language Access Coordinator in May as part of its hate crimes prevention initiative; and the expansion of the department’s Office of Access to Justice since then and its leading of the department’s language access working group. Also, the Civil Rights Division maintains the website www.LEP.gov to house resources and information related to language assistance services.