A New York Democrat introduced legislation Tuesday that would force federal agencies to provide numerous translations of any and all coronavirus-related informational releases.
According to a news release from Rep. Grace Meng’s office, the COVID-19 Language Access Act would mandate that all written government resources regarding the ongoing international pandemic be provided not only in English, but in 19 other languages as well.
An exhaustive list of the linguistic translations mandated by the bill specifies the other languages as Spanish, Arabic, Cambodian, Chinese, French, Greek, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, Thai, Urdu and Vietnamese.
“Since the beginning of this pandemic, I have worked to help translate materials released by the Trump administration and federal agencies in order for the many diverse communities in my district to obtain the critical information they need about COVID-19,” Meng stated in the release.
“It is unacceptable that federal agencies have not provided all these translations, but the passage of my bill would ensure that they finally do,” she added. “Language barriers must never prevent anybody from accessing vital and potentially life-saving information. Nobody should ever be left in the dark about the coronavirus, and providing these translations would be critical in our fight to combat the illness.”
Under the language of Meng’s bill, federal departments and actors would have only seven days to provide the translated versions of their releases.
No punishment is laid out regarding departments that fail to provide translations within the allotted one-week window, if at all.
Regardless, the legislation has already gained traction among social justice organizations, some of which have gone so far as to endorse the bill as a “safeguard” for the civil rights of Americans not proficient in English.
“Covid-19 is putting all communities at risk – but some face additional challenges getting the information needed to make appropriate health decisions. Language divides are already putting non-English speakers at greater risk,” Hispanic Federation Frankie Miranda stated in Meng’s release.
John C. Yang, president of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, agreed.
“This legislation will ensure that federal agencies reach and serve vulnerable communities pro-actively as part of their mandate to provide ‘meaningful access’ to government services and programs,” Yang stated in the release.
“About one in three Asian Americans has limited proficiency in English, and this bill will help ensure that our communities have the vital information necessary to protect their health and access care, obtain financial resources, and safeguard their civil rights.”
Meng’s fellow House Democrats seem to have a similar optimism regarding the legislation, with 34 already co-sponsoring the bill, according to Meng’s release.
The release names no Republican sponsors.
Data provided by the Center for Immigration Studies, however, indicates portions of the legislation may in fact be a cure in search of a problem.
As of 2018, more than 67 million Americans — roughly 19 percent of the nation’s population at the time, according to U.S. Census Bureau data — spoke a language other than English within the home.
But 62 percent of those who fell within that number also indicated they were capable of speaking English “very well” and majority of those who spoke another language at home were found to be Spanish speakers.
Languages like Arabic, Korean and French, on the other hand, were spoken within the home by only 0.4 percent of U.S. population.
That percentage is halved when accounting for Italian and Polish speakers — and dwindles to .056 percent when accounting for “Cambodian/Khmer” speakers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Small Business Administration and other federal agencies shouldering the burden of increased requests for service as a result of the ongoing pandemic currently provide translation service for between 10 and 16 foreign languages, according to Meng’s new release.
The Western Journal has reached out to Meng’s office for comment but did not immediately receive a response.
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