New Mexico officials pursue language solutions for state services


Essential services in New Mexico are increasingly difficult to access for people with limited or no English proficiency. Fortunately, that may be about to change. 

Source NM reports that non-English-speaking New Mexico residents are struggling to navigate housing, food, and healthcare systems in the state, resulting in delays for obtaining state aid. Following a lawsuit by the Center for Law and Poverty, public officials are working on potential solutions. 

The primary action comes from the New Mexico state legislature. Lawmakers are advancing a bill that will fund interpretation services for residents, particularly those speaking languages other than English and Spanish. 

The main issue stems from a lack of interpreters, Source NM reports. Difficulty in securing interpreter services can result in food and healthcare access delays. On top of it, the phone systems that state organizations like the Human Services Department use to structure their services are often not available in a resident’s language, meaning they require a second person to navigate the prompts. Likewise, written documents are only available in English and Spanish.  

“Our lawsuit against HSD is an important first step for an agency complying with federal law by basically doing an analysis of the population they serve to better understand the demographics and the languages spoken by our communities,” said Verenice Peregrino Pompa, an attorney in the Center for Law and Poverty lawsuit. “Everyone deserves these services regardless of the language that they speak.”

Complicating the matter yet further is the fact that the people who have difficulty accessing services are often among the populations that need them the most. Recognizing the issue, a federal court ordered the New Mexico Human Services Department to determine how extensive the language problems truly are. 

“I think it’s fair to say that we’re, we’re talking about not a very high-income population,” interpreter Peter Katel told Source NM. “It’s a really good thing that we’re in a state where the courts step up and make sure that if people go to court, they have access to high-quality interpretation. And the same for community organizations who make sure that their members can fully understand what’s going on in meetings.”

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Cameron Rasmusson
Cameron Rasmusson is a writer and journalist. His first job out of the University of Montana School of Journalism took him to Sandpoint, Idaho as a staff writer for the Bonner County Daily Bee. Since 2010 he's honed his skills as a writer and reporter, joining the MultiLingual staff as Editor-in-Chief in 2021.

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