New York City Mayor Signs Executive Order Expanding Language Access
August 4, 2008
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg signed New York City's first Language Access Executive Order on July 22, 2008. All city agencies that have direct interaction with New Yorkers must now translate essential public documents into the six most commonly spoken languages, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Italian and French Creole, and use telephonic, written and oral services to provide interpretation for the city's three million immigrant residents. This change have been undertaken to improve customer service.
The order took effect immediately after its signing. City agencies must designate a Language Access Coordinator within 45 days of the signing to oversee an agency-specific language access policy and implementation plan, which should be developed by January 2009. The plan will outline the types of language services the agency will provide.
Executive Order 120 reflects the linguistic diversity of New York, where a quarter of all residents do not speak English as their primary language and have a limited ability to read, speak, write or understand English. At the signing of the order, the mayor highlighted how "for the 1.8 million New Yorkers with limited English proficiency, interacting with government all too often can be a challenge." According to Guillermo Linares, Commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, the policy "recognizes that language should not be barrier between any New Yorker and the vital services that we all need to lead a safe and healthy life."
Immigrant advocates and city officials agree in saying that the executive order is the most comprehensive of its kind in the country. The order comes after more than a decade of work on the part of community organizations and some elected officials, to improve immigrants' access to city services. In 2003, Mayor Bloomberg issued Executive Order 41, which bars police officers and other first responders from asking individuals about their immigration status. That same year the City Council passed a bill that requires public assistance, homeless outreach, health and mental health, and children's service workers at city agencies to provide translation and interpretation for immigrant clients. Soon after, the Education Department's translation unit expanded to provide parents with information in eight languages. These efforts contrast with local initiatives appearing around the country to declare English the sole language for signs and services.