LANSING, MI – Last week, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law the Statewide Meaningful Language Access Coordination Act (SB 382 and HB 4720) that will lower barriers to accessing state programs and services for Michiganders with limited English proficiency, many of whom are immigrants and refugees. This is the first comprehensive language access law in Michigan, which requires state departments and agencies to take reasonable steps to provide interpretation services and translation of vital documents for residents who are limited English proficient (LEP).
Rising Voices, Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC), and MI Poder led a coalition of 40 community organizations in Michigan to advocate for this legislation and are grateful to Gov. Whitmer and the Legislature for their continued support of common sense policies to make Michigan a welcoming and inclusive place for all to call home. The advocates are committed to working with the state government to ensure wide-reaching and equitable implementation of the new language access law.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey in 2021, over 700,000 Michiganders are foreign-born, more than 300,000 Michiganders speak English with limited proficiency, and approximately 35,000 Michiganders do not speak English at all. This new law has the potential to boost the state’s stagnant population growth and economy by attracting new and retaining current residents and workers.
“We celebrate this win for all immigrant and refugee communities that have been marginalized, underserved, and rendered invisible just because they don’t speak English,” said Jasmine Rivera, co-executive director of Rising Voices. “This is a first and crucial step in providing equitable access for all new Americans, who are the future of our state. In particular, Asian American and Pacific Islanders are the fastest-growing racial group in the country, and a primary driver of Michigan’s population growth. This law will help deliver the resources our communities need, enable AAPIs to fully participate as residents, and enrich the tapestry of our state’s culture and economy.”
“With this new law, Michigan signals that we think it is important for all residents to have meaningful access to our state government,” said Christine Sauvé, Policy, Engagement, and Communications Coordinator at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. “The law will have a tremendous impact on the lives of people with limited English proficiency and their families, many of whom are members of Michigan's diverse immigrant communities. No matter what language you speak or where you were born, we all benefit when people with limited English proficiency are able to fully participate in public life and are included in communication about services relating to public health, safety, taxes, and other important matters we share in common. MIRC has advocated for language access bills in several legislative sessions and we are so glad we can now celebrate that Michigan is joining other states across the nation in ensuring meaningful access to state services for all Michiganders.”
“For decades, the lack of language access has been a barrier for many families to access critical state resources,” said Cindy Gamboa, Executive Director for MI Poder. “MI Poder and many non-profit leaders across the state have been advocating for linguistic justice because we believe residents should have access to state services regardless of their native language or where they are from. Here in Michigan, the presence and contributions of immigrant communities are felt in cities all across the state. We celebrate the signing of this legislation into law, it is a great step towards acknowledging the diverse communities we have in Michigan and signal all are welcomed and valued here”.
State Senator Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), the lead sponsor in the Senate, said “Michigan has a large and growing immigrant population that should all have access to state government services regardless of ability to speak or understand English. Over 944,928 Michiganders 5 years old and over speak another language besides English at home. Whether it’s accessing public benefits or getting housing resources, every Michigander deserves to get the help they need from state departments and agencies in order to make sure their needs are met regardless of their ability to command the English language. I am thrilled to see Governor Whitmer sign this piece of legislation into law which will help move Michigan forward and not leave immigrant communities behind”
State Representative Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton), the lead sponsor in the House, said “Ensuring that every Michigander, regardless of the language they speak, has access and understanding to programs and services within our state plays a crucial role in allowing every person the opportunity to participate in economic, social, and civic life. This package of bills is an important step toward a more inclusive state for every person, worker, and family.”
“As a daughter of a Mexican immigrant, I have experienced the issue of language access firsthand, having no ability or resources to translate vital information to my great grandma in her native language. I am honored to have sponsored these critical bills and see them signed into law,” said state Senator Mary Cavanagh (D-Redford Township). “This will be life-changing for so many in our community and across Michigan. These bills are crucial to afford every current and future Michigander full and equal participation in their community and state government, creating a more welcoming state for all.”
“By translating vital documents into languages that are spoken across the state, we are breaking down obstacles and providing access to essential information that all Michiganders have a right to. These bills are a recognition that every Michigander, regardless of their background, deserves a chance to support their families and contribute to their community,” said State Representative John Fitzgerald (D-Wyoming).
The law would apply to any language spoken by LEP populations that meets the threshold of at least 500 people or 3% of a community served by a local office of a covered state agency. It designates the Office of Global Michigan to oversee these efforts and mandates the appointment of language access liaisons within state agencies to develop resources, trainings, and outreach activities. There are provisions for data collection and requiring biennial reports to monitor and improve language access implementation. The law also establishes a complaint process enforced by the Department of Civil Rights for instances of noncompliance and denials of service based on national origin in accordance with the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Rising Voices, a project of the Center for Empowered Politics, is a nonprofit 501(c)(4) organization that seeks to increase the civic participation of Asian Americans in Michigan by developing the leadership, organizing, and power-building capacity of Asian American women, youth and communities. risingvoicesaaf.org
Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) is a statewide legal resource center for Michigan’s immigrant communities that works to build a thriving Michigan where immigrant communities experience equity and belonging. MIRC's work is rooted in three pillars: direct legal services, systemic advocacy, and community engagement and education. michiganimmigrant.org
MI Poder is the first 501(c)4 nonprofit organization that promotes social welfare to strengthen the Michigan Latinx voice and the capacity for leadership to mobilize its constituency and increase participation in democratic processes; while developing and advocating for legislation, regulations, and government programs to improve the Michigan Latinx community’s opportunities, growth and investment. mi-poder.org