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Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Executive Order 13166

What It Is and How It Affects Us

Susana C. Schultz
Strictly Spanish LLC, Cincinnati, Ohio

Some of the information contained in the following article is an almost-verbatim compilation of materials on the subject published by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Some verbiage has been changed for the purpose of the article as long as it didn't change the intended meaning. For the past few years, Strictly Spanish, as many other translation companies, has been experiencing an increase in the amount of Spanish translation projects as a result of Title VI and EO 13166. We believe this is an important law that is helping many people with limited English proficiency. Although many will say that immigrants need to learn English, it is easier said than done. In places like Miami, English is a foreign language and immigrants in that city don't have many opportunities to learn and practice English, so Title VI makes sure that those tax-paying people have access to the services they are entitled.

What are Title VI and Executive Order 13166?

The Home Page of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice’s website gives the following overview of Title VI:

“Title VI, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq., was enacted as part of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.”

The intent of Title VI is better explained in the words of President John F. Kennedy in 1963:
"Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races [colors, and national origins] contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes or results in racial [color or national origin] discrimination.”

The Web page on Executive Order 13166 describes the Order as “Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency” (LEP).

What does it all mean in layman's terms?

In layman's terms it means that nobody can be discriminated because of limited English proficiency and EO 13166 makes provisions for access to individuals to federally assisted and federally conducted programs and activities.

EO 13166 contains two major initiatives. The first is designed to better enforce and implement an existing obligation: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating based on national origin by, among other things, failing to provide meaningful access to individuals who are limited English proficient (LEP). The Executive Order required federal agencies that provide federal financial assistance to develop guidance to clarify those obligations for recipients of such assistance.

Second, the Executive Order sets forth a new obligation: Because the federal government adheres to the principles of nondiscrimination and inclusion embodied in Title VI, the Executive Order requires all federal agencies to meet the same standards as federal financial assistance recipients in providing meaningful access for LEP individuals to federally conducted programs. Each federal agency must thus develop a plan for providing that access.

A federally conducted program or activity is anything a Federal agency does. Aside from employment, there are two major categories of federally conducted programs or activities covered by the regulation: those involving general public contact as part of ongoing agency operations and those directly administered by the department for program beneficiaries and participants. Activities in the first part include communication with the public (telephone contacts, office walk-ins, or interviews) and the public’s use of the Department’s facilities (cafeteria, library). Activities in the second category include programs that provide Federal services or benefits (immigration activities, operation of the Federal prison system).

State and local laws may provide additional obligations to serve LEP individuals, but cannot compel recipients of federal financial assistance to violate Title VI. For instance, given our constitutional structure, State or local "English-only" laws do not relieve an entity that receives federal funding from its responsibilities under federal anti-discrimination laws. Entities in States and localities with "English-only" laws are certainly not required to accept federal funding – but if they do, they have to comply with Title VI, including its prohibition against national origin discrimination by recipients of federal assistance. Failing to make federally assisted programs and activities accessible to individuals who are LEP will, in certain circumstances, violate Title VI.

How does it affect people, entities and the translation industry?

This EO was written in 2000 and it gave agencies until December 11, 2000 to develop and implement such plans. Obviously these measures are already in effect today and we have all experienced the effects.

Federal agencies, hospitals, state and local governments, etc. have been translating materials into many languages and providing interpreter services to their clients, and they continue to do so on a regular basis affecting the translation/interpretation industry. This is because a key component of Title VI and EO 13166 requires that written materials routinely provided in English must also be provided in regularly encountered languages other than English. Vital documents must be translated into the non-English language of each regularly encountered LEP group eligible to be served or likely to be affected by the program or activity.

A document will be considered vital if it contains information that is critical for obtaining the federal services and/or benefits, or is required by law. Vital documents include, for example: applications; consent and complaint forms; notices of rights and disciplinary action; notices advising LEP persons of the availability of free language assistance; prison rule books; and written tests that do not assess English language competency, but rather competency for a particular license, job, or skill for which English competency is not required; and letters or notices that require a response from the beneficiary or client. For instance, if a complaint form is necessary in order to file a claim with an agency, that complaint form would be vital. The obligation is not limited to written translations. Oral communication between recipients and beneficiaries often is a necessary part of the exchange of information.

In closing, let me remind you that immigrants do want to learn English and are doing so in larger numbers than past generations. Not long ago, it used to take immigrants as much as three generations to learn English and have it as a language of choice. Today, it is happening in two generations, so we are making strides. All and all, the need for translations and interpretation will always be there and quality translation companies will continue to grow with the need.

For more information on the subject, visit the following websites:



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"Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races [colors, and national origins] contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes or results in racial [color or national origin] discrimination."