Twenty-two civil rights and community organizations in Rhode Island today sent a letter to Governor Donald Carcieri, condemning his recent publicized comments that criticized the availability of state-employed language interpreters in the courts and other state agencies to help individuals who have difficulty speaking or comprehending English. The letter claims that the Governor’s statements “feed into the xenophobic atmosphere that permeates the immigration debate in our state and has encouraged a palpable discriminatory attitude towards people of certain ethnicities and races.”
According to the U.S. Census, more than 20% of Rhode Islanders speak a language other than English at home. Although the Governor has claimed that his remarks were misinterpreted, this is not the first time that he has denigrated the use of language interpreters. Only three years ago, he proposed eliminating from the budget all of the money that the judiciary had sought for the hiring of interpreters for court proceedings. In the meantime, waiting lists for ESL courses in the state remain widespread. Excerpts from the groups’ letter follows below:
“The immigrants coming to Rhode Island are, on the whole, no different from those who have come here in the past. They are eager to learn English and assimilate into society, as demonstrated by the enormous waiting lists for English as a second language courses at our community organizations. Your comments – which suggest both that immigrants in Rhode Island have no interest in learning English and that those who do not speak English somehow bear special responsibility for the state’s fiscal crisis – are insulting and only feed into the xenophobic atmosphere that permeates the immigration debate in our state and has encouraged a palpable discriminatory attitude towards people of certain ethnicities and races.
“In fact, some of the interpreter services that you have criticized are constitutionally mandated. For example, we have decided as a society that a non-English-speaking person should not have to fend for him- or herself in a courtroom when facing the loss of liberty and possible imprisonment. Of course, other interpreter services provided by the state – such as in medical care situations – also benefit all of us by making us safer.
“We strongly urge you to retract these unfortunate and insensitive comments. At a time when immigrants in our state already face a mean-spirited environment, we would hope that the state’s chief executive would not lend credence to that attitude. However unintentionally, your comments can only encourage further discrimination…”
The organizations signing the letter included: African Alliance of R.I., Center for Hispanic Policy and Advocacy, Comite de Inmigrantes en Accion, Direct Action for Rights and Equality, The Genesis Center, Immigrant Students in Action, International Institute of R.I., International Charter School, Jobs with Justice RI, Ocean State Action, Olneyville Neighborhood Association, The Poverty Institute, Progreso Latino, Providence Human Relations Commission, PrYSM, R.I. Affirmative Action Professionals, R.I. Affiliate, American Civil Liberties Union, R.I. Coalition for Affirmative Action, RILPAC/RILCF, R.I. Mexican-American Association, R.I. Parents Information Network, and the Urban League of R.I.