Immigrant Survivors’ Rights and Resources
Limited English Proficiency
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin by recipients of federal funds. The Supreme Court has defined one type of national origin discrimination as discrimination that is based on a person’s inability to speak, read, write or understand English. Consequently, recipients of federal funds (e.g., government agencies and many nonprofits) must provide the language assistance needed to ensure meaningful access for people with limited English proficiency (LEP), at no cost to the individual.
Each federal agency must publish “guidance” on how to ensure meaningful language access; this guidance applies to all programs and services within the agency’s sphere of influence.
For example, the US Department of Justice also administers funds through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that support many services and programs for survivors of sexual violence, domestic violence, trafficking, and stalking. All recipients of VAWA funds are accountable to the DOJ guidance on access for persons with LEP. Similarly, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) guidance governs benefits agencies’ language access for persons with LEP. It establishes that state benefits agencies must ensure individuals with LEP are given adequate information, are able to communicate the relevant circumstances of their situations, are able to understand the benefits available, and are able to receive the benefits to which they are entitled.,
The most common means of language access are:
- the provision of translated agency-written vital documents (including but not limited to those necessary for obtaining the service or benefit, such as applications, notices advising persons with LEP of the availability of free language assistance, letters or notices requiring a response from the individual, and consent and complaint forms),
- use of qualified interpreters that do not pose a conflict of interest, and
- bilingual staff.
Advocates should understand the language accessibility requirements to which all federally-funded government agencies and services providers are accountable, be vigilant of the extent to which government agencies and services providers comply with these requirements, and be prepared to intervene if an immigrant survivor is denied the language access services they have requested or are due.
Tools & Resources
Enhancing Access for Individuals with Limited English Proficiency Toolkit (Haciendo Accesibles para Personas con Conocimiento Limitado del Inglés los Servicios de Apoyo contra la Violencia Doméstica) by the National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities; see –
- Changing systems (Cambiar sistemas)
- Your plan (Su plan de acceso al idioma) for a step-by-step process and template your organization can use to develop its own language access plan
 Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974).
 See “HHS-funded programs open to all immigrants” (pages 481-489) in Empowering Survivors: Legal Rights of Immigrant Victims of Sexual Assault for a list of all programs funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services that are available to all people, regardless of immigration status.
 Pohl, A., Sarangapani, H., Baran, A. & Olavarria, C. (2013). Barriers to accessing services: The importance of advocates accompanying battered immigrants applying for public benefits. In K. Sullivan & L. Orloff (Eds.) Breaking Barriers: A Complete Guide to Legal Rights and Resources for Battered Immigrants. National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project, Washington College of Law at American University, and Legal Momentum.