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Suffolk County Executive signs Countywide Language Access Order

November 14, 2012

Contact: Cheryl Keshner,  (631) 650-2317

In Sandy’s Aftermath, Community and Advocacy Groups Applaud County Executive Bellone for Landmark Executive Order Guaranteeing Translation and Interpretation Services to Suffolk Residents:

New Policy is a Major Good Government and Civil Rights Victory that Will Ensure Translation and Interpretation for All Suffolk Residents in County Government Offices

As Suffolk County works to effectively communicate with all residents in recovery and relief efforts following super-storm Sandy, County Executive Steve Bellone issued a landmark executive order today guaranteeing language services to residents, a major stride toward making county government work for all residents.  A wide cross-section of community and legal advocacy organizations cheered the new policy.

In an effort to prevent costly and dangerous misunderstandings between limited-English proficient (LEP) residents—who comprise approximately 10 percent of Suffolk County’s population—and government officials, this order will ensure that agencies work with Suffolk’s diverse communities to strengthen public safety and public health and increase government efficiency.

Under the provisions of the Order, all county agencies will:

  • Translate essential public documents and forms into the top six languages spoken by LEP residents of Suffolk County;
  • Provide interpretation services to all LEP Suffolk residents;
  • Designate a language access coordinator and draft plans for complying with this Executive Order in the next 90 days; and
  • Provide the County Executive's office with annual reports detailing their compliance with the Executive Order.

This executive order will bring the county into compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act—which prohibits discrimination based on one’s language—and align the county with a similar executive order issued last year by Governor Andrew Cuomo, which covered all state government offices.

The policy was signed today by County Executive Bellone.  Immediately thereafter, Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider was joined by representatives of various organizations who have worked with the County Executive on this policy initiative, including: the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition, Make the Road New York, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, the Center for Popular Democracy, the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, SEPA Mujer, New York Communities for Change, and the Empire Justice Center. Advocates cheered the new policy.

Daniel Altschuler, coordinator of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, stated: “This is an enormous victory for all of Suffolk County.  Following Superstorm Sandy, the County Executive has wisely recognized that providing language access services is an essential good government tool; we applaud the County Executive for taking this step to meet the needs of 120,000 limited-English proficient Suffolk County residents.”

“Superstorm Sandy is the most recent example of why adequate communication between governments and constituents is so important,” said Theo Oshiro, Deputy Director of Make the Road New York. “With the County Executive's Order, Suffolk County becomes part of a growing statewide movement towards equal access, increased fairness, and increased public safety for all community members regardless of the language they speak.  Make the Road New York applauds County Executive Bellone's leadership with the signing of this historic Executive Order.”

“For far too long, limited-English proficient people living in Suffolk County have faced unequal treatment when trying to access vital services such as the police, healthcare, courts, and social services,” said Cheryl Keshner, Coordinator of the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition and an employee of the Empire Justice Center. “We applaud County Executive Bellone for having the courage and vision to enact this order, particularly during a time of crisis when effective communication is essential to protecting all members of our communities.”

 “This Executive Order is a bold new direction for Suffolk County, and a bellwether for suburban communities like it around the country,” said Nisha Agarwal, Deputy Director of the Center for Popular Democracy. “Today, Suffolk establishes itself as a leader in promoting immigrant inclusion and integration, and its language access policy is a model for other rapidly diversifying communities nationally.”

“As one of very few counties in the country with this kind of policy, Suffolk has asserted itself as a civil rights leader,” said Katherine Terenzi, Taconic Policy Fellow at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “With this Order, County Executive Bellone has made it possible for all Suffolk residents, regardless of the languages they speak, to access vital government services, fully participate in the economy, and fulfill their civic duties.”

 "For too long people like my family were unable to get the necessary services from our county simply because they didn't speak English,” said Elizabeth Bonilla, a member of New York Communities for Change and a Central Islip resident.  “Now everyone in the county finally has access to the government services that they deserve."

Martha Maffei, Executive Director of Services for the Advancement of Women (SEPA Mujer), said:  "I applaud Suffolk County Executive, Steven Bellone, for signing the Executive Order on language access.  We believe it is very important for our immigrant community to be able to report crimes and have access to the services they need without facing the barrier of language.  Having access to language is crucial to our members who are victims of domestic violence and who need to report these crimes for their safety and the safety of their children.  It also allows us to protect children from being used as interpreters and having to listen to their parents' problems."

Click here to read the Executive Order.