Language Access Fund enables pro bono representation of non-English speakers

The Language Access Fund, a new program of the State Bar of Texas, helps connect legal aid organizations across the state with much-needed translation and interpretation services for clients with limited English-language proficiency.

Interested legal aid organizations and pro bono attorneys who are working through such groups contact the Language Access Fund to obtain a code that grants them free usage of LanguageLine, a telephonic and document interpretation service. Alternatively, organizations can be reimbursed for using translation services of their choice as long as the fee is equal to or less than LanguageLine. Organizations that use on-site translation services (during a deposition, for example), as well as LanguageLine’s remote video translation services for rural areas of the state, also can request reimbursement from the Language Access Fund.

Briana Stone, a staff attorney in the State Bar of Texas Legal Access Division, noted that a significant proportion of low-income people who qualify for legal aid also have limited English proficiency. “Unfortunately due to language barriers, these clients end up sitting on waiting lists or not being served because legal aid and pro bono organizations cannot find pro bono attorneys who speak their language or are willing to take on the expense of working with an LEP client. Many of these clients are victims of violence, crime, trafficking, and other abuses, so it is important to address their legal needs as quickly as possible.”

To date, more than 28 organizations have used the Language Access Fund to assist clients speaking over 29 different languages—including American Sign Language, Spanish, Bengali, French, Arabic, Mandarin, Farsi, Vietnamese, and many more. As part of the Care Campaign initiative, the Language Access Fund helps further the State Bar’s goal to foster a culture of pro bono service in Texas.

Catholic Charities’ St. Frances Cabrini Center for Immigration Legal Assistance noted how the Language Access Fund has helped a French-speaking client. This woman—whose political activism in Cameroon led to the fatal beating of one of her children and to the burning down of her family’s home—has sought asylum in the United States while her children remain in Cameroon. Due to errors and backlog at the immigration court, she likely will wait until at least 2018 or 2019 for her case to be heard and thus is unable to work legally and remains separated from her kids. The Language Access Fund helped Cabrini connect with non-French-speaking pro bono attorneys who are working with translators to obtain authorization for the woman to work and to advance her hearing.

Legal aid organizations interested in connecting with translation and interpretation services through the Language Access Fund can contact Briana Stone at (800) 204-2222, ext. 1857 or email her at briana.stone@texasbar.com.

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Dr. Edward T. Rincón - April 4, 2014 10:34 AM

The Language Access Fund addresses a critical need in the legal system. Our own research confirms that two-thirds of Hispanic Texans are likely to prefer a Spanish-language communication when given the choice. But speaking the language does not mean that a Hispanic person can read or write in that language. The Language Access Fund provides a much needed resource, but attorneys should make assertive efforts to hire bilingual professionals who can provide Hispanic clients the needed support throughout the legal process.

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