US Attorney General Urges Federal Agencies to Improve Language Access Rights

US Attorney General Urges Federal Agencies to Improve Language Access Rights

“All people in this country, regardless of the language they speak, deserve meaningful access to programs and activities that are conducted or supported by federal agencies.” So began a memorandum issued by US Attorney General, Merrick Garland, on November 21, 2022. Garland is asking federal agencies to review their language access practices and policies, outlining the first broad steps toward that goal.

The US Attorney General said federal agencies should “improve, modernize, and carry out their language access responsibilities under Executive Order 13166.”

As a matter of non-discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) oversees federal language access programs. Executive Order 13166 serves as the basis for the government’s Limited English Proficiency (LEP) initiative, launched in 2002, and which continues to be managed by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.

Garland asked the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Kristen Clarke, to collaborate with the DOJ’s Language Access Coordinator, Ana Paula Noguez Mercado, in order to share best practices and information about language access initiatives with all federal agencies.

Essentially, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division will collaborate with the Office for Access to Justice, which was introduced in 2021, to first determine the status of compliance among federal agencies. Additional efforts by the Office for Access to Justice include expanding the language access team and leading the Language Access Working Group.

Commitment to Expanding Language Access

Garland’s memorandum also confirms the DOJ’s commitment to expanding language access as part of its 2022–2026 Strategic Plan. The joint effort is expected to examine whether language access policies and plans across all federal agencies are succeeding in reaching LEPs and recipients of federal funds, or whether they need updating.

The program is also expected to determine “whether agencies can adapt their digital communications to welcome LEP individuals.” 

Although not without precedent (in May 2012 then Attorney General Eric Holder made a similar appeal), having Garland championing this initiative as 2022 comes to a close is significant. Not only does it reinforce his own track record as a conciliatory voice regarding immigrant rights, but it also supports the post-2022-election administration’s commitment to inclusive government.

Shortly after taking office in 2021, Garland overruled some asylum restrictions imposed during the Trump administration. More recently, in September 2022, he issued an emotional call for unity during a ceremony in which 200 immigrants became US citizens, recalling his own family’s immigration story.