Target: Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Goal: Instruct Louisiana’s courts to provide free translation services to non-English speakers and to stop sentencing them to English language instruction.
Latinos in Louisiana with limited English face prejudicial punishments, according to a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The four individuals represented in the case were apparently forced to pay for substandard translation services at the courthouse and then instructed by the judge to attend and pay for English classes, both at exorbitant prices.
According to the SPLC, court officials presented the complainants with forms written in English alone, which they were obliged to sign. They were then forced to pay $130 each time they used a court interpreter, “who failed to explain the charges against them and did not properly convey the complainants’ evidence to the judge.”
As an added insult, the judge sentenced the complainants to English instruction at a local church. The SPLC notes that the $300 charge for the series of ten classes is “far above the market rate” and that the complainants described their experience in the mandatory classes as degrading–instruction “operated on an overly punitive model that relied upon mocking and humiliating students.”
All that maltreatment directly contravenes instructions from the Department of Justice. As the SPLC says, “The DOJ has repeatedly told courts that they must inform defendants of all charges pending against them and make interpretation services available free of charge.” Indeed, the alleged incompetence of Louisiana interpreters and the fact the complainants were charged for their services coincide with the definition of practices that “significantly and unreasonably impede, hinder, or restrict participation in court proceedings and access to court operations based upon a person’s English language ability” outlined in a DOJ letter to state courts.
Tell the Department of Justice that its instructions have no meaning without enforcement. Call on the DOJ to tell Louisiana courts that discrimination is unacceptable, that they must provided fully translated court documents, and that English language instruction is not an appropriate punishment.
Dear Vanita Gupta,
A lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center contains disturbing allegations of discrimination based on national origin and language proficiency. Apparently, the First Parish Court in Louisiana not only charged for access to translation services, the interpretation it offered was substandard. Moreover, the court reportedly sentenced Latinos to English instruction, for which they were charged a further $300.
Those allegations seem to directly contradict the instructions of the Department of Justice for state courts. The SPLC notes that “The DOJ has repeatedly told courts that they must inform defendants of all charges pending against them and make interpretation services available free of charge.” More specifically, the alleged failure of the First Parish Court to provide adequate interpretation services and its decision to require payment for their use seems to fall clearly within the category of practices that “significantly and unreasonably impede, hinder, or restrict participation in court proceedings” outlined in an August 2010 letter from the Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, to state courts.
The Department of Justice’s guidelines and instructions have no meaning without enforcement. We urge you to act on your policies and direct Louisiana courts to stop charging for inadequate translation services and sentencing Latinos to English classes.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Erlend Bjørtvedt