Resources:Eligible but Excluded – How Systemic Inequities in Language Access are Impacting Asian, Pacific Islander, and African Immigrant and Refugee Communities During the Pandemic

How Systemic Inequities in Language Access are Impacting Asian, Pacific Islander, and African Immigrant and Refugee Communities During the Pandemic

By Derek Lin, MPH, Research and Policy Analyst, New Mexico Voices for Children and Judy Barnstone, Ph.D., Associate Professor, New Mexico Highlands University

Download this report (Aug. 2021; 18 pages; pdf)
Download the executive summary (Aug. 2021; 2 pages; pdf)
Link to the previous report Essential but Excluded: How COVID-19 Relief has Bypassed Immigrant Communities in New Mexico (April 2020)

Acknowledgements

New Mexico Voices for Children thanks NM Asian Family CenterNM Black Leadership Council, and United Voices for Newcomer Rights at the University of New Mexico for their integral role in designing and conducting this study. We would also like to thank the NM Center on Law and PovertyEnlace ComunitarioEl CENTRO de Igualdad y DerechosCenter for Civic Policy, and Somos un Pueblo Unido for contributions to this report. This report was funded, in part, by the Con Alma Health Foundation.

Introduction

Our communities are strongest when all New Mexicans can participate in our systems of government, which includes equitable access to public education, justice, the democratic process, and — for people who are under-resourced — assistance with food, health care, and housing. Currently, many New Mexicans who speak languages other than English, particularly those who were born in a foreign country, are excluded because of systemic inequities in language access. The inadequacy of our state’s multilingual interpretation and translation services causes significant hardship in many New Mexico communities because language access is critical for both good health and financial security.[1],[2] As we demonstrated in our previous report, Essential but Excluded: How COVID-19 Relief has Bypassed Immigrant Communities in New Mexico, despite their enormous economic and tax contributions, many immigrants were explicitly left out of federal pandemic relief. In this report, we would like to bring attention to additional groups of New Mexicans who may be eligible for relief but, due to inequities, have been unable to readily access it. Specifically, Asian and Pacific Islander (API) and African immigrants and refugees who speak languages other than English.

API and African immigrants and refugees have long faced inequities in language access in our state agencies. The ways in which these inequities create disproportionate hardship were made increasingly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which people who speak languages other than English faced language barriers that prevented them from utilizing emergency government assistance. Although the pandemic further exposed the state’s shortcomings in providing language access, these inequities are not new. As demonstrated by the Yazzie/Martinez v. The State of New Mexico lawsuit, there is a long history of discrimination against English-language learners in New Mexico’s public education system that has marginalized students who speak Spanish and Native American languages.[3],[4] Lack of language access is a barrier not only in education, but also to accessing social safety net services and equal justice under the law.[5],[6],[7] It even influences the extent to which many New Mexicans are able to participate in our democracy and make decisions that affect their families’ futures.[8] These realities were confirmed by what we found in the present study – that many people who are eligible for government services, public benefits, and other resources are excluded from them, in large part as a result of systemic inequities in language access.

In this study, New Mexico Voices for Children (NMVC) set out to document the stories of many of our state’s diverse immigrant and refugee community members, whose voices have been infrequently elevated in policy discussions. We focused on how these communities have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the systemic inequities at the root of disparities in health and economic well-being. While this study produced findings that go beyond what is discussed here, this report’s focus is on language access, which emerged as a dominant theme during our analysis of interview data. In addition to our findings on language access barriers that immigrants and refugees say they face in our state, we include a discussion of the critical work of caseworkers who help them overcome these barriers. The findings in this report should not only be viewed as documentation of the undue hardship faced during the pandemic by New Mexicans who speak languages other than English, but also as a call-to-action for state lawmakers to address the urgent need for equitable language access in New Mexico.