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August 08, 2002
Language Barriers Cause Problems
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The growing number of Hispanics in America, particularly in the Midwest and South, is creating a language barrier that has impacted how governments and businesses provide services, the Associated Press reports.

Georgia advocates tell the AP that language barriers prevent Hispanic immigrants from getting proper medical attention. In Tennessee, employers tell the AP that they would hire more Hispanic employees, but that the language barrier prevents proper safety and job training.

"You have to speak English on the job, so nobody has to be around you to tell you what the boss wants," Jose Adame told the AP. Although he came to the United States from Mexico almost ten years ago, he was unable to find good work until he improved his English.

Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, discrimination on the basis of foreign language is prohibited. But that aspect of the law is not regularly enforced, Marcela Urrutia, a policy analyst with the Hispanic advocacy group, National Council of La Raza, told the AP.

In 2000, President Clinton issued an executive order for federal agencies and organizations that receive federal funds to have a system to provide services for employees who speak limited English. Urrutia says that most companies are still trying to comply with the order.

"With the growing emergence of Latinos and other immigrants, there has been a growing demand of compliance with the law," she told the AP.

The 2000 census reports that 11 percent of U.S. residents, or 28 million people, speak Spanish at home, with half of those speaking poor English. But the states whose Hispanic population increased the most saw a virtual explosion of people who speak little or no English.

However, many groups, such as the nonprofit organization ProEnglish, have been calling for "English-only" regulations. The AP reports that 26 states have made English their official language.

Mark Kirkorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, told the AP that governments need to find the difference between commonsense uses for languages, such as emergency situations, and those that inhibit assimilation. The CIS is a research group that advocates "fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted."

The federal Office of Management and Budget said it was unable to estimate the costs of instituting programs to help residents who have a limited level of English.

The AP also reports that immigrants who speak Asian languages tend to know English better than Spanish speakers.

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