Language Access Committee

Chaired by Leonard Rivera, Esq., the Language Access Committee’s overarching goal is to improve access among litigants of limited English proficiency to interpreter and translation services in the Commonwealth’s courts and administrative agencies. The Committee’s current initiatives include the following:

Jury Service Pamphlet for Limited English Proficient (“LEP”) Individuals: The Committee recently produced two pamphlets (attached at right), for federal and state courts, that educate LEP individuals about jury service and the level of English language proficiency needed to serve on a jury. The Committee distributed the federal pamphlets to the three Federal District Courts for dissemination at naturalization ceremonies. The Committee distributed the state court pamphlets to court administrators throughout the Commonwealth and to bar associations, advocacy groups, and commissions who work closely with immigrant communities.

Act 172 and Interpreter Regulations: Earlier in its history, the Commission played a key role in the passage of Act 172, which established a certification system for court interpreters and mandated that certified or otherwise qualified interpreters be provided in certain court and most administrative proceedings. Since then, the Committee has been working with the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (“AOPC”), public interest organizations and bar associations to disseminate information about interpretation services and related legal issues. On May 22, 2021, the Committee submitted formal comments (attached at right) to the AOPC’s proposed amendments to Act 172’s interpreter regulations and compensation schedules. In its Comments, the Commission urged the AOPC to provide adequate funding for interpreters who serve in a remote capacity and ensure that LEP litigants’ due process rights are protected. The finalized version of the amended regulations, which reflect several of the Committee’s suggestions, were published in November 2021 and took effect on January 1, 2022. 

Relatedly, the Committee contributed and signed onto an amicus brief (attached at right) in the case Basnet v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, submitted by Pennsylvania clinical law professors at Temple Law and other Pennsylvania law schools to the Supreme Court of PA in November 2022. The brief sets forth the duties the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry and other state agencies are required to fulfill to ensure that their proceedings are accessible to LEP individuals. The Court granted the parties’ motion to file the amicus brief; however, it ultimately declined to hear the appeal.

The Committee also continues to meet with Language Access and Interpreter Program officials to communicate concerns brought to Committee members by interpreters throughout the Commonwealth. For more information on interpreter services within the Pennsylvania court system, guidelines for the procurement of interpreters, training sessions, and bilingual court documents, see the website maintained by the AOPC’s Interpreter Program.

Detainment of Immigrants in State Courthouses: After receiving numerous reports of immigrants being arrested and detained by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) in and around Pennsylvania courthouses when they appeared for trials as witnesses or defendants or were pursuing other court business, the Commission submitted to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (“Court”) a Memorandum containing these reports, relevant case law, and recommendations to address this unconstitutional interference with the administration of the state’s courts. The Memorandum (attached at right) also included reports of improper involvement by some state court judges and court personnel in immigration matters in their courts. In response, the AOPC issued a directive entitled Advisory re: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (attached at right), which advised judicial districts that an inquiry by a judicial officer or employee into the immigration status of an individual, based on their language ability or perceived national origin, may be regarded as a violation of Title VI.

Additionally, at the Commission’s request, the Court asked its Committee on Rules of Evidence to draft a new rule limiting the admission of immigration status into evidence. The new rule, Pa.R.E. 413, was ultimately approved by the Court and took effect on October 1, 2021. The Court is also considering proposed guidelines, attached at right and submitted by the Commission and the PA Bar Association (“PBA”) in March 2020, to reduce ICE’s presence in state courthouses and limit its efforts to arrest and detain immigrants without a judicial warrant in and around these facilities. The guidelines remain under consideration by the Court.

Education and Outreach: For the past ten or more years, the Committee has collaborated with Widener University’s Legal Education Institute to provide training for interpreters, judges, and attorneys on the proper use of interpreters in court and administrative proceedings. Additionally, following the release of the AOPC’s Language Access Plan, the Committee compiled training materials for language access training seminars (attached at right) to share with District Attorney Offices, police departments, minority bar associations, and other non-profit organizations to encourage them to hold low-cost training sessions.