Advocates and Suffolk County officials hailed today's implementation of a new language-access policy as an important step to provide better services to immigrants and the communities where they reside.
Suffolk County has begun offering access to translated key documents in English, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Mandarin, Haitian Creole and Portuguese, under an order signed by County Executive Steve Bellone.
The departments under the executive's office will also offer access to a "language line" service where people can get simultaneous translation when they visit a county agency. The efforts will cost less than $10,000 per month, since most of the related expenses are paid with state and federal funds, said Bellone's Assistant Deputy Luis Montes.
The new policy will benefit an estimated 120,000 immigrants "who before were seen as a burden for the government, though we know they are not," Montes said.
More than 50 people, many of them immigrants who used simultaneous interpretation offered through headsets, attended a bilingual forum, held in English and Spanish, to discuss the policy at the Brentwood office for several advocacy groups on Tuesday night.
Among them, North Bay Shore resident Víctor Franco choked back tears as he recalled how years ago he couldn't get language assistance at a critical time when he sought medical care for a brother, who later died of his ailment. He also struggled to get an interpreter at another time, when he needed police assistance after being assaulted, Franco said.
"I had bad experiences at the precinct and at the hospital" because of the lack of interpreters, said Franco, 49, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic. "If there had been [language] services, I would not have this pain that I carry inside."
Daniel Altschuler, coordinator of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, which brings together advocacy efforts in minority communities, said the new policy "ensures that we all will have the same access to county services."