It is no secret that the Trump administration has sparked some controversy over the years. Recently, Trump has made efforts to dial down legislation around language access. An Obama-era federal rule requires government institutions like courts and hospitals to inform people of their right to free linguistic support. The Trump administration, however, insists that providing linguistic support is too onerous and costly for providers, so it is looking to ‘relax’ that federal rule. This could have far-reaching effects for the millions of Americans who desperately need those services.
Millions of Americans are deaf, visually impaired or have limited English proficiency and are usually not aware of their right to free linguistic support. Taking away the obligation to inform those people could have serious consequences. Critics have said Trump’s new proposal violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin in all programs or activities receiving federal funding. However, the current administration stresses the new proposal’s aim is not to eliminate linguistic support, but to soften the obligation to inform patients of their right to linguistic support, though critics claim the new proposal is aimed directly at limiting the rights of immigrants and minorities.
An estimated 30 million people in the United States have limited English proficiency. Studies have shown that these people have a higher risk of health care complications, because they misunderstand a doctor’s orders, make mistakes preparing for procedures or improperly use medications. Without linguistic support, it is likely that the amounts of medical mishaps, mistreatments and avoidable health care costs will only increase.
“I think it’s a very dangerous step,” said Alexander Green, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who studies language barriers in health care. “It’s starting a process of eroding people’s rights to high-quality health services at a time when we are on a trajectory to remove disparities in health care. This is a motion to turn back the clock and cause more disparities in health care.”
Limiting language support will also have repercussions for the US judicial system. From the courts’ perspective, taking away language support will increase miscommunication errors, thereby increasing costs and resources to fix those mistakes. Consequently, courts will be less productive and efficient as they will have to retrace their steps to fix made mistakes. Furthermore, the lack of an inclusive language policy will no longer allow courts to promote community integration in immigrant, refugee, and LEP (Limited English Proficiency) communities.
For example, data has indicated that language barriers lead immigrants to waive the right to a hearing before they are deported. By not actively informing immigrants of their right to linguistic support, they will be further ostracized from society. “Anytime you’re not notifying people of their rights, you disempower them,” said Mara Youdelman, managing attorney for the Washington, D.C., office of the National Health Law Program, a civil rights advocacy group.
Public schools and state educational agencies have been struggling to overcome the language barriers that impede equal participation by students in their instructional programs. If Trump’s new proposal goes into effect, it will not make things any easier. Fewer students will have equal access to the educational curriculum and it will lower their chances to keep up with students who are proficient in English or students who are not deaf or visually impaired. Equal rights advocates have signalled this to be one of the most important drivers of social imparity in the United States.
Landlords, public housing agencies, and state and local governments that run housing are supposed to abide by the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits intentional discrimination based on race, national origin, or other protected characteristics. In reality, however, there are many landlords and agencies that take advantage of their immigrant tenants. Immigrants are often unaware of laws that set standards for apartment conditions so they hesitate to complain. The language barrier also often prevents them from taking legal action against abusive landlords and agencies. With Trump’s new proposal, it would be even harder for immigrants to find information about housing legislation in the appropriate language.
JNCL – NCLIS
Fortunately, the issues mentioned above do not go unnoticed. JNCL-NCIS, the Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Languages and International Studies, analyzes federal and state legislation, provides policy recommendations to decision-makers on Capitol Hill, and tracks the budget & appropriations process in Congress. If you feel passionate about an inclusive language policy in America, check out their website to see how you can contribute to a multilingual future for America.