A Long Island immigration advocacy group says Nassau County officials need to step up to the plate after they uncovered that county employees often refused to provide interpreters to limited-English speakers even though county regulations require them to.
In a first-hand account published online Tuesday, a representative for Long Island Wins, a nonprofit group that focuses on immigration issues, described his interactions when he called 11 Nassau County government offices – acting as someone who spoke limited English and whose main language was Haitian-Creole.
Not one of the agencies provided an interpreter, he wrote.
“There’s an issue here,” the group’s executive director, Maryann Sinclair Slutsky, said in an interview Tuesday. She said advocates saw a pattern at Nassau agencies that showed employees weren’t following a language access plan that should have been implemented by 2014.
In 2013, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano signed two executive orders that guaranteed language access services for limited English speakers. The group’s undercover operations showed “there’s been little or no implementation” of that plan, Slutsky said. A Mangano spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
“We knew all along that there was not really great implementation,” Slutsky said. “The results were really much worse.”
The county offices “tested” by the advocates ranged from social service agencies – like the health department and department of the aging – to police and emergency services, the county sheriff and district attorney.
“One of our testers called the police department and didn’t get a good response,” she said. “If people who have limited English proficiency have an emergency and they’re unable to [relay that information], it’s serious.”
In that instance, the caller reported that a police official asked them, “How long have you been in this country?” and then berated them for not speaking English clearly enough.
Last month, Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said officers are not allowed to ask about a person’s immigration status and vowed to “aggressively investigate” any complaints. The department did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
At all 11 agencies, the caller was not connected to an interpreter. That included a call to the Nassau County district attorney’s office, which last month launched a special tipline dedicated to taking calls from immigrants.
Slutsky praised Singas’ initiative to encourage New Americans to come forward to report fraud and cooperate with authorities when they are victims or witnesses to crimes, but said not being able to reach someone who speaks the same language could hinder that.
“Our office is committed to helping immigrant victims of crime – no matter what language they speak,” Singas’ spokesman, Paul Leonard, said. He did not respond to questions about why the caller was not connected to translation services, even though they are available.
“To get people to come forward, that’s great, but if we’re calling county agencies and they’re not able to provide interpretation…well, you have to be able to provide that,” Slutsky said.
She said dozens of advocates attended a Nassau County legislature meeting on Monday with a list of demands, which include posting signs at county offices that notify people translation services are available and developing a list of staff proficient in other languages.
“It’s about sensitivity and training,” Slutsky said. “The agency employees need to be trained.”