Professional language translation and language interpreting services provided by competent translators and professional interpreters are required daily by various federal and state agencies. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 recognizes the presence of barriers based on race, color and national origin. The federal government was specific in its interpretation that oral language translation is required for individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP). Basis for eligibility can be determined by the proportion of foreign languages spoken in a geographical area. The federal government requires translation of signs, forms and vital documents into languages spoken by at least 3% of the population.
In certain circumstances, failing to ensure parity access to federal-assisted programs and activities for individuals with LEP could be a ground for national origin discrimination. However, in Alexander v. Sandoval 532 U.S. 275 (2001), the U.S. Supreme Court held that individuals have no private right of action directly under Title VI unless the government has established the cause of enforcing and protecting the rights of people with LEP. Therefore, state enforceability is a critical component. Although not all states have statutes specific to language access law, there are laws that protect the people from national origin discrimination.
In 2002, Maryland enacted SB 265 – a language access law requiring State agencies (as specified), to provide equal access to individuals with LEP. Foreign language translation of vital documents into any language spoken by any LEP population constituting 3% of the overall State population is also a mandatory requirement. State agencies not covered by law may not guarantee any provision for special foreign language translation services but are not constrained to conduct needs-assessment, if necessary. Thus, public participation is important to help them understand the need. Through requests and feedbacks, these agencies may subsequently find justification to initiate a foreign language translation program in the future.