Nassau faulted on language services

Daniel Altschuler, of Make the Road New York, Daniel Altschuler, of Make the Road New York, along with Nassau organizations and community members rally as they announce the results of a "Language Access Report Card" at the Nassau County Legislative and Executive Office Building in Mineola on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. Nassau County agencies were graded on whether they consistently provide access to translation and interpretation to limited-English-proficient residents. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Major Nassau County departments still aren't providing non-English-speaking residents with interpreters or translated documents as promised by executive orders signed last year, advocates charged Monday.

About two dozen people from immigrant rights and civil liberties groups gathered in front of county government headquarters in Mineola to call on County Executive Edward Mangano to ensure the implementation of the two orders he issued in July and August 2013.

Between chants in English and Spanish, the advocates said they recently tested several departments, including police, health and social services, and that in each case, a person seeking information in one of six languages covered by the orders could not be helped. This included a police employee failing to find a Spanish interpreter for a caller on a nonemergency line and a social services staffer failing to provide a caller a benefits application translated to Chinese.

"This shows without a doubt that Nassau County has failed to meet its own language access policy," said Janeth Niebla-Galaviz of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table.

Mangano's orders require that vital government documents be translated into Spanish, Chinese, Italian, Persian, Korean and French Creole, and require interpreters to be made available to limited-English-proficiency residents at the departments under his control. The orders -- similar to one signed in Suffolk in 2012 -- stated that those departments should complete plans detailing how they would meet those goals by last November, and would complete the translations by last month.

The administration said recently that it has complied with the orders, noting that documents would soon be online. But advocates said Monday that they have not seen signs of progress -- adding that Mangano's office has not made them part of the implementation process, either by meeting with them or by sharing the departments' language access plans.

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In response to the complaints, Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said Monday: "The administration began implementation of a language access policy for Nassau County. Both the departments of police and social services provide interpretation services and vital documents in six different languages. Other agencies currently provide telephone interpretation for the public and continue to progress with implementation of" the policy.

Nevin did not respond to the specific instances cited in the advocates' report, or to their complaint that the administration hasn't been responsive to them. The advocates said the issue is urgent because a lack of sufficient translation could affect a resident seeking lifesaving emergency housing, health or police services.

"This part of the community is being deliberately isolated," said Maryann Sinclair Slutsky, executive director of Long Island WINS, a nonprofit focused on immigration issues.

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