Language Access Plan to Improve Immigration Court System for Limited English Speakers

By Julia at Legal Language
Posted on 08/13/2012
In Immigration, News

The Executive Office for Immigration Review earlier this year released a Language Access Plan, the first official commitment in writing by the EOIR to provide language access to customers with limited English proficiency.

Executive Office for Immigration Review

The Executive Office for Immigration Review, or EOIR, is an agency under the Department of Justice that is responsible for deciding immigration cases. Established in 1983, the agency consists of three tribunals, or courts.

The Office of the Chief Immigration Judge consists of more than 250 immigration judges in various immigration courts throughout the country. Immigration judges are responsible for deciding whether immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are in violation of immigration laws, and if so, whether they should be removed from the US or granted relief.

The second tribunal is the Board of Immigration Appeals, or the BIA. This group reviews decisions made by immigration judges that have been appealed. This group also administers an accreditation program for representatives who practice before the Department of Homeland Security, the immigration courts and the BIA.

The third tribunal is the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer. This office focuses on businesses that employ illegal immigrants and also decides cases relating to unfair immigration employment practices.

About the Language Access Plan

Because EOIR administers the immigration court system, it is responsible for providing fair immigration proceedings in which the participants, often with limited English proficiency, can fully grasp what is happening in court. As part of its mission, the EOIR has made efforts to ensure meaningful language access for immigrants in the court system.

The Language Access Plan describes the agency’s current policy on language access and its plans for improving language access in the future, with the goal of implementing full interpretation services nationwide within a year.

Currently, immigration courts arrange for an interpreter during scheduling hearings and merit hearings. Parties may request an interpreter orally or in writing, but immigration judges are also responsible for ascertaining whether an interpreter is needed in absence of a formal request.

The Language Access Plan was developed by a working group consisting of representatives with experience in various stages of the courtroom process. The group analyzed data about the primary languages needed for translation, and the resources and costs of providing a dedicated language program to parties.

In fiscal year 2011, the EOIR allocated more than $24 million to language access resources. To improve the robust program, the EOIR has committed to translate its internet website and outreach and education documents into additional languages.

In addition, the Language Access Center will provide training materials to EOIR employees covering the nature and scope of language assistance available. Staff will learn about identifying the language needs of limited-English parties and will share best practices to help ensure that the language needs of these parties are met.

The plan also set forth metrics for evaluating the program’s effectiveness over time, with plans to engage outside stakeholders for their input on the process.

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