Federal Law Requires Many Services in Spanish
Federal civil rights law requires many government agencies to provide services in Spanish and other languages to people who speak little English. "Title VI" of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against people who come from countries other than the U.S. ("national origin discrimination"). Providing services only in English to people who speak little English is a form of national origin discrimination that is illegal under Title VI.
Title VI applies to state and local government agencies and even to private companies if they receive money from the federal government. Some of the agencies that are covered by Title VI are public schools; the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV); the Oregon Employment Department; the welfare office; federally subsidized housing; and many hospitals and doctors' offices.
In 2000, President Clinton ordered the federal government to tell state and local governments and private companies about how to serve limited English speakers under Title VI. He also ordered federal government agencies, like the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service, to provide services in languages other than English.
If there are significant numbers of people who speak a certain language, agencies should provide interpreters in that language. They should also provide written translations of important letters, forms and other written materials. They should post notices in offices saying that bilingual services are available. They should also train their staff about how to provide good service to people who speak little English. Because there are many Spanish speakers in Oregon, many Oregon agencies should be providing their services in Spanish.