English-limited Residents Can Turn to New City Program to Protect Their Language Rights

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release
April 30, 2013
Media Contact: Grace Lee, 415-274-6760 x305

language-access-network-launch

Eight organizations speaking different languages comprise the network: African Advocacy Network, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, Central American Resource Center, Chinese for Affirmative Action, Filipino Community Center, People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights, and Self-Help for the Elderly.

English-limited Residents Can Turn to New City Program to Protect Their Language Rights

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Ms. Situ was riding the MUNI 71 bus line when a MTA officer boarded to check fares. She did not realize she had forgotten her monthly pass. Ms. Situ, a limited-English proficient San Francisco resident, asked the MTA officer for Chinese interpretation to explain her situation. Instead of receiving interpretation, she was ordered off the bus, where the citation officer searched her purse without her permission. The officer found a letter with her husband’s name and wrote that on the citation.

Ms. Situ said she “violated, ashamed, and angry” about her experience.

Ms. Situ’s experience is not an isolated incident. In the City and County of San Francisco, 44% of residents speak a language other than English at home, and in 13% of households no one over the age of 14 speaks English. This makes them virtually isolated by language. For all of these residents, not having language access to critical City services can spells disaster, or even life or death in emergency situations.

“Most of our clients do not even know that having language assistance to these services is guaranteed by law,” stated Rachel Ebora, executive director of the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center. “Our first priority is to increase community education among limited English proficient San Franciscans, so they know that it is their right to receive services in their language.”

San Francisco passed one of the strongest language access laws in the country in 2001, which was then amended again in 2009. This Language Access Ordinance requires city departments with high public contact with limited-English proficient (LEP) populations to (1) utilize sufficient bilingual employees; (2) provide translation of vital information to the public in each language spoken by a substantial number of LEP people; and (3) have public, prominent notices to LEP persons of their right to request translation from city departments. However, these regulations are still not being fully implemented in city departments.

Many departments remain out of compliance because they lack the cultural competency or language capacity to develop language access plans. These gaps are most often filled by community advocates, who step into the role of translator, interpreter, and liaisons for navigating city services.

This year, those community advocates have pooled their resources and expertise together to help San Francisco’s limited English residents. Through funding from the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs, eight community organizations have formed the San Francisco Language Access Network. The Network organizations include the African Advocacy Network, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, Central American Resource Center, Chinese for Affirmative Action, Filipino Community Center, People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights, and Self-Help for the Elderly.

Each network organization has experience in serving clients in multiple languages. It comprises of service providers, community organizers, legal advocates, and civil rights organizations.

“We are committed to the full realization of language access rights in San Francisco,” stated Antonio Diaz, Organizational Director of People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights. “We have seen our clients and members continually denied critical information or services in their language, even when translation or interpretation has been requested. With this Network, we hope to change course.”

In this inaugural year, the Network will conduct outreach in the community to build education on language access. The Network will also assist LEP residents in filing complaints and document language access needs. The Network will also work with the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs to support city departments in reaching compliance. The target population for the network will be limited English proficient and monolingual immigrants in underserved neighborhoods in San Francisco.

“Even for residents who know they have language rights, they are too scared to complain when their rights are violated,” explained Terry Valen, director of the Filipino Community Center. “We will provide a safe and friendly environment to help people file complaints when they have been denied language access. It is critical that we record these violations which happen daily in our communities.”

The network was officially launched this morning at a press conference at City Hall. All eight community-based organizations were present, along with the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs and some members of the Board of Supervisors.

“In districts with large immigrant populations, like the Richmond, it is crucial that our City agencies have the ability to serve all of our residents equitably,” stated Supervisor Eric Mar, whose district includes the Richmond. “I particularly want our first responders and other Tier 1 Departments to comply with all language access laws, and recently called for a hearing to examine this issue. I’m excited to have this network committed to advancing language access and working with the City to improve delivery of services.”

“It’s crucial that the City forms a partnership with community organizations to improve language access for our monolingual residents. That’s why funding the creation of the language access network was one of my top budget priorities,” said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who did not attend the press conference but is a strong advocate of language access.

“This network model is unique to San Francisco and other major U.S. cities that are responding to language rights needs,” Grace Lee, policy advocate of Chinese for Affirmative Action. “By funding this innovative partnership, San Francisco is showing that it’s committed to improving language access for its residents, and also formally recognizing the role that community advocates have played in protecting San Francisco’s language rights.”

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