The RI ACLU has filed a federal civil rights complaint against the Rhode Island State Police (RISP) for violating a law that requires agencies receiving federal funding to provide meaningful access to programs, services, and communication for individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP). The ACLU’s complaint, filed with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), alleges that RISP has failed to adequately assess the needs of LEP populations in Rhode Island, and has also failed to adequately address these needs. As the complaint notes, the failure to sufficiently communicate effectively leads to unequal access to benefits, services, and knowledge of one’s rights for LEP persons.
Last year, after RISP applied to the federal government to assist in the enforcement of immigration law, the ACLU filed an open records request with the agency for documents relating to RISP’s compliance with its legal obligations to provide appropriate interpreter services. The ACLU’s review of those documents, performed by RI ACLU volunteer attorney Jennifer Doucleff, concluded that RISP’s activities in that regard were woefully insufficient, leading to the filing of the complaint.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, and specifically a provision known as “Title VI,” requires any agency receiving federal funding to implement a four-factor analysis to determine the scope of interpreter services needed for that particular agency. According to the documents received by the ACLU, it does not appear that the RISP has ever conducted any analysis of Rhode Island’s LEP population, nor does the agency have policies in place to do so.
Among other things, the ACLU’s ten-page complaint letter to the DOJ calls the language services provided by RISP “of questionable quality.” Despite the “breadth of programs and services” the agency routinely provides to LEP individuals in a variety of contexts, RISP was able to produce only six forms that it uses in the Spanish language, and of those six, translation errors appear in four of them.
Additionally, the ACLU complaint alleges that the RISP is not providing adequate language services proportionate to the needs of Rhode Island’s LEP population. In fact, there is no evidence that RISP employs any language interpreters, Spanish or otherwise, or that there are enough sufficiently bilingual state police officers to satisfactorily address the needs of the significant LEP population in Rhode Island.
The complaint calls on the DOJ to “take action to ensure that RISP complies with its obligations under Title VI such that LEP persons in Rhode Island will have access to appropriate and adequate language services as regards RISP’s programs and activities.”
RI ACLU volunteer attorney Doucleff said today: “With a history of documented racial and ethnic profiling, as well as a recent commitment to enforcing federal immigration laws, the State Police must uphold its obligation to provide adequate interpretation and translation services to the state’s significant LEP population.”