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Immigrant groups boost language access bills in MI Senate

Michigan Capitol building in Lansing on a summer day.
Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio
The Michigan Capitol building in Lansing.

Two bills currently before the Michigan Senate would require state departments to provide translation services for people with limited English in most circumstances.

Senate bills 382 and 383 were introduced in June. They would require state agencies to provide written and oral translation services for people with limited English proficiency (LEP).

“These bills ensure that state departments and agencies will take reasonable steps to provide equal language access, which could include a variety of things such as oral language services and translating vital documents into languages spoken by LEP populations,” according to the group of Senate Democrats who introduced the legislation.

Immigrant advocates say it benefits everyone if immigrants receive needed public services and information in their own languages. They say the bills would come with enforcement mechanisms, and Michigan should have language access requirements stricter than federal law requires.

“English language learners often are part of communities who are among the most marginalized and under-resourced,” said Loida Tapia of the group MI Poder. “These bills ensure our state government starts to address inequities with language access.”

“Giving our communities the ability to access basic, public resources in their own language will help move our state forward and become more welcoming, inclusive, and prosperous. We cannot continue to allow this burden to fall on our immigrant communities any longer — the Legislature must pass these language access bills.”

The bills set a minimum threshold for requiring translation services “in areas where the number of individuals with limited English proficiency exceeds three percent of the total population, or 500 or more people are served by a particular office.”

“Michigan may not be able to consistently rely on federal enforcement and standards to ensure equity and should take affirmative action,” according to analysis from theMichigan Immigrant Rights Center.“In addition, all Michiganders benefit when people with limited English proficiency are fully included in communication about issues relating to public health, safety, economic development, business and tax compliance, and other common interests the state works to protect.”

Data showthat nearly 950,000 Michigan residents speak a language other than English at home. The bills were discussed in the Senate Committee on Housing and Human Services this week.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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