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ACLU Complaint Against Department of Human Services for Lack of Interpreter Services is Resolved

Posted: January 19, 2011|Category: Immigration

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In response to a civil rights complaint filed by the Rhode Island ACLU against the state’s Department of Human Services (DHS) for violating laws requiring the agency to provide appropriate language interpreter services, a detailed 24-page resolution agreement has been entered this week between DHS and the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The agreement establishes detailed timeframes for DHS to follow in order to ensure that clients who have limited English proficiency (LEP) have access to the services and programs provided by the agency.

The ACLU’s complaint was filed three years ago, shortly after then-Governor Donald Carcieri made public comments denouncing state-funded interpreters for DHS clients and then laid off all of the agency’s Southeast Asian interpreters. The complaint documented a litany of areas where DHS was not complying with a federal law, known as Title VI, requiring agencies receiving federal funds to provide appropriate language interpreter services to clients.

Among other things, the resolution agreement sets obligations and standards for DHS to follow to determine the linguistic needs of affected individuals and provide them appropriate interpreter services, to translate important agency documents into languages spoken by 5% of the population affected by DHS programs, to ensure that the language assistance provided to applicants and clients is timely, and to train employees of their obligations under the law.

RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown said today: “We are very pleased with the agreement that has been reached between the state and the federal Office for Civil Rights. It is very thorough and, once fully implemented, will have a significant impact in ensuring that clients are getting the services they are entitled to under federal law.  However, what will be key is ensuring that the state complies with the various timeframes in the agreement. Now that this agreement has been reached, it will be incumbent upon the federal Office for Civil Rights to make sure that it is implemented as required, because that is where the state has fallen down in the past.

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