Yesterday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new language access policy easing access to government services for immigrants. The change had been advocated for for more than a decade by groups like the New York Immigration Coalition, New York State Immigrant Action Fund, the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, the Center for Empire Justice, and CARECEN. Political leaders like Assemblyman Phil Ramos also played a major role in this important victory.
Cuomo’s office issued a release explaining the policy:
Approximately two and a half million New Yorkers do not speak English as their primary language and have limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English. This presents potential barriers when trying to access important government benefits or services. Our state works for all people, regardless of where you were born or what language you speak,” said Governor Cuomo. “We are proud that people from all around the world call New York home, making our state a beacon of diversity and tolerance. This Executive Order ensures that non-English speakers receive equal access to the programs, services, and opportunities offered by their state government.”
The Governor’s Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights Alphonso David will provide oversight and coordination to agencies to help them implement the provisions of the Executive Order. Agencies will fulfill the requirements of the Executive Order on a rolling basis and must fully comply within one year. The Governor’s website will be translated as well.
To ensure that language access services are implemented in a cost effective and efficient manner, the New York State Office of General Services has already negotiated bulk discounts for interpretation and translation services for all state agencies. Additionally, the Spending and Government Efficiency (“SAGE”) Commission has incorporated this plan in its streamlining of agencies.
Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said that Cuomo’s action marks New York off from the trend in other parts of the United States to marginalize immigrants. She said that “at a time when states like Alabama are coming undone with the most un-American, inhumane, and self-destructive policies against immigrants, Governor Cuomo wisely beats a different path.”
“He demonstrates anew his commitment to government as a force for good,” she said, adding that his policy “acknowledges that it is in the state’s interest to recognize immigrants as constituents crucial to the state’s economy and vitality, and acts to ensure full civil rights and equal access for all New Yorkers.”
She assured advocates that “the order is comprehensive in scope and lays out a concrete plan and timeline for implementation.”