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Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke Delivers Remarks at the Inaugural Meeting of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Prepared

Good afternoon, Commissioners, and thank you for inviting me to your inaugural meeting. It seems fitting that as you begin to conclude your two days of convenings, you are focusing on language access. Language access is a top priority for so many in the AANHPI community, and it is also a top priority for us at the Civil Rights Division. Dismantling language barriers and communicating accurately with the public has a direct impact on the success of your, and our, work to combat anti-Asian bias and hate and promote equity.

When public entities, including the federal government, communicate only in the English language, we miss the opportunity to receive complaints and tips, or otherwise engage with the nearly 25.6 million limited English proficient, or “LEP,” individuals living in the United States.

For LEP people, language access means access to the ballot and to education, state courts, health care, public transportation and many other basic, critically important activities. And without access tools like oral interpretation, written translation and direct, competent in-language communication, LEP individuals and communities may not know about federal efforts to do things like combat bias and hate, promote environmental justice or advance equity. Nor will they be able to participate in these efforts as stakeholders, partners and advocates.

At the Civil Rights Division, we remain committed to ensuring that language barriers do not prevent LEP individuals and communities from fully participating in public life. I want to highlight several of the ways we do this for you today.

Over two decades ago, on August 11, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13166, the goal of which is, quote, “to improve access to federally conducted and federally assisted programs and activities for persons who, as a result of national origin, are limited in their English proficiency.” President Clinton gave the Department of Justice a central role in meeting this goal. Specifically, he assigned us the responsibility of issuing guidance about the requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin. A failure to provide language access to LEP communities can be a form of national origin discrimination.

All of this means that the Justice Department is responsible for coordinating with federal agencies to ensure that the federal government is equipped to do business in critical languages, and for advising recipients of federal funds about Title VI.

Since Executive Order 13166 was signed, many federal agencies have developed language access programs, including plans, policies and procedures to ensure that LEP individuals have meaningful access to federal programs and activities. Through Hurricane Katrina, wildfires, the September 11 terrorist attacks and the pandemic, we have worked alongside our sister federal agencies and state and local partners to review, prepare, and issue language access plans and policies to make sure essential, life-changing information is available to all members of the public, regardless of the language they read or speak. In fact, just last month, a federal interagency committee chaired by Civil Rights Division staff issued a guide on improving access to websites and digital services for LEP individuals.

To assist federal agencies, as well as state and local agencies and entities, the Civil Rights Division creates tools that help the federal government communicate and maintain a multilingual online presence. For example, we maintain an online federal language access clearinghouse where users can view federal agency language access plans and Title VI LEP Guidance, download a copy of “I Speak” language identification cards, and get tip sheets on working with telephone interpreters. You can find all of this and more at

The website also includes our Language Map App, which allows anyone – a mayor, a governor, a school superintendent, a hospital administrator or a librarian – to determine, within seconds, if there are LEP individuals in their county or state and, most importantly, the languages they speak. Some examples of AAPI languages found in the Map App include, but are not limited to, Gujarati, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Mon-Khmer, Tagalog, Thai and Urdu. This type of AAPI language data affords federal, state and local governments, and other entities a critically important tool they need to identify and dismantle existing language barriers.

I also want to be clear that this work doesn’t just apply to other agencies. The Civil Rights Division and the entire Justice Department have also made it a top priority to ensure that LEP people have access to us and the services we provide. In fact, in May 2021, Attorney General Garland committed the department to establishing a full-time, permanent Language Access Coordinator to increase our ability to serve LEP communities.

I know you heard from Deputy Associate Attorney General Rachel Rossi yesterday about the Justice Department’s work to combat hate crimes. Providing resources and services in-language is a critical step towards building community partnerships and trust, increasing the reporting of hate crimes and hate incidents and ensuring resources are community-centered. The department has worked to increase translation of our resources, and we have translated our hate crimes website to make it easier for LEP people to get help or report a hate crime in a language other than English. You can now report hate crimes in 14 languages, including eight Asian languages, and we are in the process of obtaining more translations right now.

In addition, the Civil Rights Division is better prepared than ever to field all kinds of civil rights complaints in non-English languages. We have long been able to take non-English language complaints by phone, postal mail, e-mail, and in person. But as of May 2021, the Civil Rights Reporting Portal, located at, is also available in the top five languages spoken by LEP people: Spanish, Chinese (both simplified and traditional), Vietnamese, Korean and Tagalog.

We have also prioritized training our staff to respond to and investigate allegations made by LEP victims or witnesses. Since 2013, we have trained all new attorneys and staff on how to communicate effectively with LEP persons. And we have shared our interactive language access training curricula with federal, state and local agencies.

Beyond our work on language access with federal agencies, the Civil Rights Division also reviews the activities of entities that receive federal funding to make sure that their activities and operations are accessible to LEP people. Entities that receive federal funding can include schools, polling locations, police departments, state departments of correction, juvenile justice programs, court systems and other state and local agencies.

When a state or local agency or other organization receives money from the federal government, that entity commits to complying with Title VI and to using that money in a way that does not discriminate because of race, color, or national origin. Our Federal Coordination and Compliance Section, or “FCS,” leads the enforcement of the language access provisions of Title VI on behalf of the Department and coordinates interagency enforcement. In particular, FCS receives, investigates, and resolves complaints alleging that DOJ-funded entities failed to provide LEP persons with meaningful language access.

One example of the language access enforcement work we do under Title VI is FCS’s state courts language access initiative. Through this initiative, the Civil Rights Division has secured a number of important language access settlements and agreements nationwide. For example, last October, we entered a resolution with the South Dakota Unified Judicial System that will improve access to state courts for LEP persons and caused a change in state law. Last June, we signed a settlement with Fort Bend County, Texas to improve access to court for LEP individuals and provide interpreter services at no cost to LEP individuals in all civil and criminal cases in the county. This agreement includes providing notice of the court’s language access plan in Vietnamese, Chinese, Urdu, Malayalam, Tagalog, Gujarati, Hindi and Arabic. And last March, we entered an agreement with the Colorado Office of Administrative Courts to help LEP individuals access timely and competent language assistance during administrative hearings. We have also worked cooperatively with the Vermont and Hawaii court systems to make it easier for LEP people to vindicate their rights.

Our resolutions in these and many other state court matters mean that millions of LEP people, including those from Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities, have gained meaningful access to state judicial systems. We have also entered into resolutions to ensure language access in state and local department of correction and law enforcement agency recipients.

I’ll also note that our language access work extends beyond institutions that receive funding from DOJ. As national experts in the field, our Federal Coordination and Compliance Section provides advice to other federal agencies on the nuts and bolts of Title VI language access investigations. We have also joined forces with those agencies to investigate matters.

Another of our key areas of focus with respect to language issues is ensuring that all citizens have access to the ballot. The Civil Rights Division monitors elections to ensure that all voters have equal access to the electoral process, under the Voting Rights Act.

The Civil Rights Division vigorously enforces the minority language provisions of the Voting Rights Act. This federal law requires certain jurisdictions around the country to provide bilingual written voting materials and voting assistance for covered minority languages based on a list issued by the U.S. Census Bureau. The latest list identified more than 330 jurisdictions in 30 states that will be required to provided language services to voters from many language communities, including Asian languages. We monitor elections and, where appropriate, work with jurisdictions to ensure that language minority groups can participate effectively in the electoral process. We also enforce section 208 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows voters with limited English proficiency nationwide to get assistance from the person of their choosing, other than their employer or an official of their union.

Our division also works to promote language access in education. Our Educational Opportunities Section continues to work to make sure all students can attend schools free from discrimination and that schools provide language services for LEP parents. We have negotiated with school districts to ensure that students have the language services and support they are entitled to under the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974. Over the last year, we have reached settlements with school districts in Arizona, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina and South Carolina that require schools to communicate with LEP parents in a language they can understand, empowering all parents to participate in their children’s education.

We also know that many students, especially those who are English learners, suffered disproportionate setbacks in learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In May 2021, the Civil Rights Division and the Department of Education released new resources in 12 Asian languages for students and families confronting COVID-19 related harassment. In August, again with the Department of Education, we issued a resource in three Asian languages that addressed discrimination based on national original and immigration status. Both resources provide clear advice for families, examples of what we can investigate, and instructions on when and how to file a complaint.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to take a moment to discuss the Division’s pandemic-related work, because it highlights the critical role we play in interagency coordination around important issues like language access.

We knew early on that COVID-19 was likely to have significant civil rights implications. The Division’s experience responding to H1N1 and Ebola had already alerted us to the need to protect individuals of races or ethnicities who are unfairly targeted because of their perceived link to a disease. Over the last two years, the Civil Rights Division convened meetings of more than a dozen Federal agencies to share information about civil rights concerns arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, we monitored harassment and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and sought to better understand and address the devastating health outcomes for vulnerable communities, particularly the disproportionate effect on Black, Indigenous, and Latino people, and other people of color.

As a result of these meetings, in April 2021, the Civil Rights Division issued a statement about the need to protect the civil rights of vulnerable populations, including LEP communities, during the pandemic response and recovery. This statement and the accompanying resource guide, which was translated into five AAPI languages, reminded federal, state and local agencies of their obligations to:

  1. combat hate crimes, harassment and other discrimination;
  2. ensure equal access for people with disabilities;
  3. reduce learning loss for vulnerable students;
  4. protect correctional staff, incarcerated and detained people and their families;
  5. protect vulnerable populations facing housing instability;
  6. provide critical public health information in languages other than English; and,
  7. collect data to monitor, track and ensure equitable outcomes.

Although much progress has been made in the field of language access, we know from our coordination and enforcement work that significant gaps persist. Nonprofit and community-based organizations continue to be unfairly burdened with the responsibility of serving as interpreters and translating important public health information, some federal agencies have not posted or updated their language access plans, and not enough effort is made to ensure LEP communities can participate in civic life.

We will do our part in the department, but I also want to emphasize that we cannot overcome language barriers alone. Each of us – federal staff, Commissioners, community organizations, private companies, members of the public – we all have a role to play to make sure that the voices of LEP people are heard. We encourage you to reach out to us and federal agencies to tell us how we can better serve LEP communities. Are there websites or flyers that would be of particular use to your community if translated? Are there radio stations or newspapers that would be interested in translated press releases – and if so, in what language? And, of course, are there entities that receive federal funds that may not be providing LEP persons with meaningful access to their programs and activities, in violation of Title VI? We want to hear your ideas and solutions, and we stand ready to work together to overcome language barriers.

Thank you again for having me.

Civil Rights
Indian Country Law and Justice
Updated February 7, 2022