Language Access

Baltimore City is establishing a long-term language access program with emphasis on Spanish, French, Russian, Korean, and Arabic.  We met at City Hall in the evening of Wednesday 1 July 2015.  We had representatives from various languages.  I was the representative from the Russian language because of my church affiliation.

At the meeting I met a gentleman from one of the French speaking groups.  We spoke in both English and French.  I am surprised at how well I do speak French since I don't use the language that much.  I sent him an invitation to our French Fair in September.

Erin Cox who started the meeting is here for ten weeks.  We have settled approximately 1,000 refuges in Maryland, many of them in Baltimore City.

Catalina Rogriez-Lewis said that the purpose is to reach out to all immigrants.  MIMA was created about a year ago.  It is a part of the goal to grow the City by 10,000 families.

Who are we?  We were created about a year ago.  We staff the Baltimore City Hispanic group.  MIMA is a one-stop shop.  We have 46,000 foreign born residents.  About 30,000 individuals are Hispanic.  They are mainly located in southern Baltimore, about 3.3% of our population.  The Asian  born population in the South of Baltimore is
1.9%.  The African born population is 1%, northeast of the City.

The language within these groups really range.  Many speak French.  The Russian and Ukrainian are mainly in north Baltimore.

We received from 600 to 800 refuges in any given year.

LAP: Language Access Program.  It is to assist people with limited English ability.  They also train City employees.  LEP: Limited English Proficiency.  English is not their primary language.  16,000 in Baltimore.  The number was close to 21,000 in 2009.

English, Korean, French, Chinese, Russian, and now Arabic which is emerging.  When we translate something, it is into these first five languages mainly.  We do this because it is the law.  It is a part of our job and our mission.  It is a part of the changing demographics of the City.

We provide three services: Translations of documents, telephone interpretation, and on-site interpretation.  The Mayor’s Office pays for these services.  We want to create a program that is sustainable.

Translation is very expensive.  We make sure that our vital documents are translated.  Information on Community Action Center will be non-vital.  Anything that provides access to a right is vital.

We make the telephone compilation available to all our City agencies.  For on-site we have volunteers and we contract with Ad Astra Company.  Legal, medical material is priority for us.

What are we responsible for?  We have many City agencies which are funded by the City but are state agencies.  The school system and Police Department are state agencies.  The Police Department has its own language access service.

DSS is a state agency but funded by the City of Baltimore.  Some of our agencies never deal with the public.

Erin said that we are trying to help agencies to take more ownership of tahe services.  Erin is looking at way other cities are doing.  Four factor analysis survey is due tomorrow from the agencies.  Number of LEP frequencies of requests, nature and importance or urgency of the program, and existing resources.

Best Practice.  We are looking at different models.  Erin talked with four cities.  San Francisco was the first in 2001.  They passed a law.  For us the oversight is housed in the Mayor’s Office.  They have half of two people dedicated to this.

Washignton DC was next.  In 2004 they passed a law.  They have two full time persons.

In New York they passed an executive order.  They have two full time employees.

Chicago in April passed their immigration law.  They have dedicated a quarter of a person.  The work very closely with a group external to the city.

We do have a city-wide program, but not a policy yet.  We recognize the need to have a full time person dedicated to this.  Each agency has a go-to person for language access.

We are hoping to implement a reporting requirement.  We hope to have a training requirement within the agency.  We need an enhanced outreach.  We need accountability and a formal complaint process.

We want to strengthen the relationship with our point people.  Catalina said that we want to get feed back from people who work with our constitutents.  We want this to be a long term process.  We want o serve the current and future administrations.  This is not funded by the federal government.

Somebody commented that we don’t have anybody from 3-1-1 here.  We are having meeting with them.

Some languages are discussed because it is not in their budget.  They are coming to us for the most part.

Betty asked how many LEP do we expect to serve.  This is a part of the requirement of the federal government.  Washington DC does not go by the Census but by the people whom they serve.

We have 1,5000 African languages.  There are 120 in Nigeria alone, according to a woman.

The Chinese is Mandarin.  A woman suggested exploring Cantonese.  Deacon Michael suggested looking into Ukrainian and a woman suggested Swahili.

A man said that Chinese has 26 different dialects.  The main one is Mandarin.  The written language would be simplified.  That is how we do when we translate into Chinese.

In China the all learn Mandarin.

A man said that the front line staff needs to know how to use telephonic communication.  We need to raise the bar for the front life people to identify the language.  A woman said that we also need access to ASL.

We need HR and Customer Service people on line with this.

We are only responsible for city agencies.  We have no control over state agencies.

Robin said that we need a shift from immigrants as a burden to them as a value.

A woman suggested pamphlets and brochures for the LEPs themselves.  Some cities language access are located in the civil rights division.  3-1-1 has a customer service component.

Solid Waste and Waste Water Management are submitting their surveys.  We have jurisdiction over only one aspect of Housing, namely Code Enforcement.

Erin said that the goal is to get agencies on board and recognize that this is not an add-on but a way of doing business.

A man said that focus on language itself might be too narrow.  It is not necessary just reading the form but understanding the whole culture.

Betty said that we need to make people open to diversity. 

Erin asked how do we best inform people that these services are available.  ESL class, school, radio, churches, skills and hospitals, libraries.

Catalina said that we don’t have the capacity to translate the web site.  When we translate a document, it is not a one-step shop.  We are thinking about identifying those document and putting them on MIMA website.

We don’t expect this to be a one time meeting, but a long time iniative.  We want partners along with us.


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