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DHS Announces New Language Access Plan

Posted by Tamara Kessler, Acting Officer for the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

At DHS, we recognize the importance of being able to communicate effectively with individuals across our many missions and functions.  That’s why I’m proud to announce that DHS has published its first-ever Language Access Plan to address the language needs of persons with limited English proficiency (LEP). 

This LEP Plan provides a framework for the Department to improve our delivery of language services for diverse communities across the country, demonstrating our commitment to providing meaningful access to DHS programs and activities.   This commitment starts with the establishment of a new policy for DHS to provide meaningful access for LEP individuals by providing quality language assistance services in a timely manner.

The release of the LEP Plan is the culmination of a year-long Department-wide effort to improve language access, as required by Executive Order 13166.  In leading this effort, the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) collaborated with DHS Components,  engaged and received feedback from community stakeholders and federal partners through our regular roundtables across the country, and held listening sessions with representatives of non-governmental organizations who provided valuable insight on areas for improvement and innovative methods for providing language access.

As a result of this planning effort, DHS is advancing language access and has launched initiatives to increase efficiencies and improve the quality of language services across DHS.  For example:

  • DHS is translating various materials and information in more languages, increasing employee awareness about obtaining language services, increasing the use of interpreters, and engaging more often with communities in languages other than English.
  • Secretary Napolitano’s Efficiency Review team launched a review to identify cost savings  and efficiencies in the procurement of interpretation and language services; and
  • DHS established a Language Access Working Group, chaired by the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, to coordinate implementation of the LEP plan.

Here at CRCL, we have been working hard to improve access to our own programs.  For example, we have translated our civil rights and civil liberties complaint form and detailed instructions on how to file a complaint in nine languages, and offer translated versions of other public materials and documents in a variety of languages. 

In addition, CRCL created “I Speak” tools – a poster and pocket guide for DHS employees and law enforcement that provides a visual illustration of 75 languages.  These tools allow DHS personnel and law enforcement to readily identify the language spoken by people they encounter in their day-to-day duties, and utilize language resources to better communicate with and serve those individuals.  Several Components across DHS are now integrating “I Speak” tools into their daily operations. 

The LEP Plan also highlights ways in which DHS currently provides language access.  For example: 
  • CBP requires that all Border Patrol Agents and CBP Officers working along the Southwest border speak functional Spanish.
  • FEMA provides written materials in multiple languages for disaster survivors, offers numerous non-English websites (such as www.fema.gov/esp and http://www.listo.gov/) and trains Disaster Assistance Employees to identify and address language needs in impacted areas.
  • USCIS provides information on immigration and naturalization in multiple languages.
While we achieved a milestone with the LEP Plan, there is still more work to be done.  This year, each DHS Component is required to complete its own language access plan that will further implement the Department’s policy to provide meaningful access for LEP persons.
We are proud of the work we’ve done thus far to address the critical language needs of our country’s diverse landscape.  CRCL will continue to support the Department’s goal to ensure that all individuals can meaningfully participate in DHS programs and activities.

Read the DHS Language Access Plan and the Guidance on Limited English Proficiency for DHS Recipients.

Last Updated: 09/20/2018
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