by Lindsey Hennawi, Program Assistant
Great news! On November 14th, 2012, Suffolk County Executive Steve Ballone signed an executive order requiring county government agencies to translate vital public documents into the top six languages spoken by limited English proficient (LEP) residents of Suffolk County and to provide interpretation services for all LEP residents as well.
Twenty percent of Suffolk County’s 1.5 million residents are LEP. Now, residents whose primary languages are Italian, Mandarin, Spanish, Polish, French Creole, and Portuguese will be able to access local government offices and communicate with officials. This means victims of domestic violence and hate crimes can access police protection. Residents affected by Superstorm Sandy can receive much needed information about recovery efforts. Support services such as unemployment insurance and public benefits are now also accessible to LEP residents. Thanks to this executive order, an individual’s language will no longer be a barrier to participation in government services or access to important resources.
The order is descended from similar legislation, including President Clinton’s 2000 executive order that mandated all agencies receiving federal funding develop language access plans in order to comply with the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s prohibition of discrimination based on national origin; Mayor Bloomberg’s Executive Order 120, signed in 2008, that bans city agencies from discriminating against residents based on their primary language or national origin; and Governor Cuomo’s 2011 Executive Order 26 that does the same for executive state agencies.
One of the first of its kind in a suburban county in the United States, Mr. Ballone’s executive order comes on the heels of the previous Suffolk County executive, Steve Levy, who in his tenure utilized county police as immigration agents, criminalized Latino day laborers, and marginalized Latino-majority neighborhoods, earning the county a reputation for anti-immigrant resentment and violence.
Suffolk County’s executive order is a result of the advocacy of the organizations with which NYLPI partnered on this campaign, including the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition, Make the Road New York, the Center for Popular Democracy, and other groups that have tirelessly promoted immigrants’ rights in Suffolk County for years. Since 2009, NYLPI has advocated for language access orders on the city, state, and county level, and is currently working to develop materials to help other advocates replicate these efforts.
We are thrilled Suffolk County has taken this critical step toward advancing the civil rights of LEP individuals and making New York a more inclusive home for all its diverse residents. Congratulations to all of the advocates involved and thank you, Steve Ballone, for your work toward equality and justice on behalf of LEP residents! May yours be one of many county orders to come.