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Know Your Rights
Source: Flanbwayan News
Subject: Language Access
Type: Media Coverage

Immigrants Lost in Translation

Despite an ordinance that went into effect two years ago and guarantees translation services, many immigrants in the city continue to encounter the same problem: language barriers, according to a report released yesterday.

According to the study, conducted by the New York Immigrant Coalition [sic] and Make the Road New York, 60 percent of those surveyed said they have received translation assistance, but that the quality of services provided by the city isn’t up to par.

“Although there have been improvements, there are still significant gaps, said Chung Wha Hong, direction [sic] of the New York Immigrant Coalition [sic]. The quality of service depends on the language, the borough, and the agency that delivers it.

For example, Spanish is the language most frequently translated, with the highest number of interpreters and documents in Spanish. Immigrants from Korea and Southeast Asia almost never receive assistance in their language.

Of all the city agencies, three show red flags: the Human Resources Administration did not provide service to 44 percent of those surveyed; for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, that number was 61 percent; and the New York City Police Department failed to help 67 percent.

The report was sent to all three agencies, but only the Human Resources Administration responded positively to the study’s recommendations. The NYPD agreed to hold a meeting to try to address the issue.

According to Sagrario Méndez, a volunteer with Make the Road New York, the situation has gotten better. “Over two years ago, I almost poisoned myself with medicine. I took two pills and I was asleep for four days,” said Méndez, who is originally from Honduras.
Evelyn Erskine, spokesperson for the Mayor’s office, said that Bloomberg has been working hard to improve services.

“Today, 87 percent of city agencies have contracts with interpreters, 84 percent have provided language training to their staff, and more than 100 documents are available in the most widely spoken languages. We encourage everyone who needs an interpreter or translated documents to ask for them,” said Erskine.

According to the study, one of every four New Yorkers speaks limited English and language barriers prevent them from receiving government benefits. The New York Immigrant Coalition [sic] and Make the Road New York recognize that the city is making an effort. They interviewed more than 700 people between July 2009 and March 2010; those surveyed spoke Spanish, Urdu, Bengali, or Korean.