Interpreters: most speakers of other languages “do not willfully avoid speaking English”

National Association of Judicial Interpreters and Translators

National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators

The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) and the Tennessee Association of Professional Interpreters and Translators (TAPIT) sent a letter to Mayor Karl Dean in which they strongly oppose English Only.  Here are excerpts:

We strongly oppose the Nashville charter amendment because it is a dangerous and misguided initiative. Proposals of this type can, and have created severe and confusing barriers, not only for limited-English proficient (LEP) individuals, but also for government officials, resulting in denial of equal access, equal protection, and basic human rights.

We in NAJIT and TAPIT work daily with speakers of other languages, and we know that most of them have a strong and sincere desire to communicate in English. They do not willfully avoid speaking English out of stubbornness or spite; they recognize the value of being able to converse with the broader society in its own language. If this initiative passed, Nashville will be the only major city in our country to have an English-only law. It is unfortunate that those pushing for this divisive ballot measure have not focused their energies on the creation of better facilities and opportunities for learning English.

Here is the full text of the letter:

National Association of Judiciary Interpreters & Translators
1707 L St. N.W., Suite 570, Washington, D.C. 20036
Tel: 202-293-0342 · Fax: 202-293-0495
http://www.najit.org

December 4, 2008

Mayor Karl Dean
100 Metro Courthouse
Nashville, TN 37201

RE: Proposed Metro Charter amendment to make English the official language of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville

Dear Mayor Dean:

On behalf of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) and the Tennessee Association of Professional Interpreters and Translators (TAPIT), we write in opposition to the proposed English-only Metro Charter amendment.

NAJIT is the largest judiciary interpreting and translating association in the world. Founded in 1979, NAJIT is an organization whose members work to bridge the language gap in state and federal courthouses, law enforcement settings and in a variety of other legal and quasi-legal venues across the country. Our chief purpose is to promote professional standards of performance and integrity and to assist all entities in the administration of justice.

TAPIT, a NAJIT organizational member, strives to bring together interpreters and translators in the state of Tennessee in order to foster the highest level of ethical and professional standards in the field.

We strongly oppose the Nashville charter amendment because it is a dangerous and misguided initiative. Proposals of this type can, and have created severe and confusing barriers, not only for limited-English proficient (LEP) individuals, but also for government officials, resulting in denial of equal access, equal protection, and basic human rights.

Although misleadingly titled, “English First,” the proposed charter amendment is an extremely broad “English-only” initiative, as evidenced by the language in the proposed amendment. In November of 2006, the Nashville Metro Council passed resolution RS2006-1650, clarifying that Tennessee state law already establishes English as the official language of Tennessee. Furthermore, it found that additional English-only legislation has “a potentially detrimental impact on those who are already linguistically isolated; and…increased linguistic isolation for LEP individuals may have the unintended consequence of slowing their rate of English acquisition.” Clearly, this charter amendment aims to create a stark prohibition against non-English languages.

The measure does state one exception: “The Metro Council may make specific exceptions to protect public health and safety.” The reality is that, if passed, the confusion created by this measure will create significant inefficiencies and hinder the Nashville government’s ability to communicate with all city residents-a basic prerequisite for public health and safety. Isolating non-English speaking and limited-English speaking individuals will not only prevent them from sharing critical information with government officials, it will impede the dissemination of information to them in cases of emergency.

English-only laws serve to deny equal access and equal protection to individuals. In the legal setting, laws that have the effect of eliminating courtroom interpretation and translation jeopardize the ability of the people on trial and involved in the proceedings to express themselves accurately and to fully comprehend the process. Cases carried out in this ineffective manner are often dismissed, wrongly decided, or overturned. The failure to offer constitutionally guaranteed due process not only creates an unfair system for the limited-English or non-English speaker, it affects all stakeholders.

The initiative is worded in such a broad and careless manner, that it will almost certainly be found to violate federal law. In addition to working through the significant inefficiencies and confusion caused by this measure, the expenses involved in defending this pointless initiative will result in an additional cost to the taxpayers of Nashville. While this costly proposal may appeal to the
insecurities and fears of some among us, it will only serve to make Nashville less safe, less welcoming, and less efficient.

We in NAJIT and TAPIT work daily with speakers of other languages, and we know that most of them have a strong and sincere desire to communicate in English. They do not willfully avoid speaking English out of stubbornness or spite; they recognize the value of being able to converse with the broader society in its own language. If this initiative passed, Nashville will be the only major city in our country to have an English-only law. It is unfortunate that those pushing for this divisive ballot measure have not focused their energies on the creation of better facilities and opportunities for learning English.

We stand strongly in opposition to the English Only charter amendment proposal.

For more information, contact NAJIT at http://najit.org/; contact TAPIT at http://www.tapit.org/ or RCruz99@bellsouth.net.

Isabel Framer, Chair
National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators

Marvyn Bacigalupo-Tipps, President
Tennessee Association of Professional Interpreters and Translators

cc:
The Law Offices of David Randolph Smith
The Metro Council
Davidson County Election Commission
The Tennessean

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Filed under Litigation, Safety, Stewardship, Testimonials, The importance of learning English

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