Language access: Ensuring the equitable provision of legal services

Universal representation pilot programs should make sure that people are not denied a fair day in court simply because of the language they speak or their national origin. People who speak languages other than English or Spanish face additional obstacles to accessing counsel because many providers do not have the language capacity to serve them, thus reinforcing the systemic discrimination these programs are built to dismantle. For example, Black immigrants and people from indigenous communities face significant language barriers in the immigration system.[]See Nancy Adossi, Tadios Belay, Carl Lipscombe, et al., Black Lives at the Border (Brooklyn, NY: Black Alliance for Just Immigration, 2018), 13,; and Tom Jawetz and Scott Shuchart, Language Access Has Life-or-Death Consequences for Migrants (Washington, DC: Center for American Progress, 2019), Legal teams must be able to overcome those barriers and provide culturally competent, person-centered representation to all immigrants.

Programs should hire bilingual staff and have a plan and sufficient resources to enlist interpreters for clients who speak languages beyond the staff’s capacity. Attorneys and CBOs can collaborate to leverage local language skills and improve a program’s language capacity. Programs should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve, and providers should regularly consider ways in which limited language access may be creating obstacles to the equitable provision of legal services.