Gainesville plans to provide translation services for non-English speaking residents

Gainesville is moving forward with a language access program that would better connect residents to city resources at all levels.

The program aims to help those who speak little or no English better communicate with public safety, local government, parks and utilities, among other services, in an effort for Gainesville to develop its “welcoming city” motto. .

Critics, however, say it’s a waste of money and effort is better spent teaching people how to speak English better.

“Immigrants past and present have made monumental contributions to American communities and they should have every resource available to continue to do so,” City Commissioner Reina Saco said.

At last week’s commission meeting, Saco, a local attorney who has helped immigrant families navigate the legal system and housing issues throughout the county, floated the idea of ​​starting to plan. a Gainesville Immigrant Neighbor Inclusion Initiative (GINI) that would help with translation services. The original vision for the plan, however, belongs to Robin Lewy, director of the Rural Women’s Health Project. The current estimated cost is approximately $316,000 per year.

Saco says it’s a small price to pay for 10-15% of non-English speaking residents to be more engaged in their communities.

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The initiative dates back to April 2018 when a victim of domestic violence, who was being held captive by her boyfriend, escaped and called Gainesville police for help. She didn’t speak the best English and GPD was not equipped to handle the situation.

Believing the man to be armed, a GPD SWAT team arrived on the scene and found the couple were living with seven other people in an apartment. Police said they believed the group was made up of undocumented immigrants and said they would be reported to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), sparking an uproar.

It was a missed opportunity for the city to help someone in need, critics of the raid said.

Mayor Lauren Poe apologized profusely and reiterated that Gainesville was indeed a “welcoming town”. GPD later said it would rewrite its immigration policy and created a translation line.

Officials would like to coordinate with local groups if the program was OK

The new program, if approved, could pay for a community liaison position who would coordinate the program, staff training, language translation, and media and social media messaging.

Elected officials said they would like to collaborate with other local government agencies to ensure the program reaches its full potential.

“We want the county and the school board and everyone to work with us on this because it doesn’t stop at the city limit,” Saco said.

But the cost and scope of the program are only tentative at this time, Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said.

“Before we can move forward, we need to figure out what the (exact) costs are,” he said.

Over the next month, city staff will review a full cost analysis of the pilot program, including the creation of a translation phone line and the translation of city signs. The first language on the agenda would be Spanish, while other languages ​​could be introduced in the second and third years.

Hayes-Santos, who said he was a strong supporter of the idea, said he would first like data on how many people would benefit.

“One of the things I asked for is to create thresholds when we look to include more languages,” he said Tuesday. “We have to make sure the costs are worth it.”

Not everyone was thrilled with the idea.

Darlene Pifalo, a local estate agent, said it was not the best use of money, adding that her grandparents had to learn English when they moved to America from Poland. Others should too, she says.

“Sometimes if we can help someone speak English rather than having interpreters, I think people get along better in our country,” she said.

Local resident Laura Gonzales, however, pointed out that non-English speaking people often face discrimination and believes such a program would allow them to thrive in the Gainesville community.

“What we don’t think about is the cultural sensitivity and the fact that translation is a very racialized process,” she said.

City Commissioner David Arreola, whose parents immigrated to Gainesville from Mexico in the late 1980s and learned English upon arrival, agreed the service would make Gainesville even more attractive to immigrants.

“The fact that 25% of our new population last year was international tells you that funding priorities such as language access and other inclusive policies for immigrants are attractive to the international community,” he said. he declares. “It makes people want to come to Gainesville.”

The recommendations launched are an offshoot of a study that began last year with a research grant from the New American Economy and Welcoming America programs.

Grants were distributed to improve immigrant inclusion and economic opportunity in communities across the country, the city said in a news release at the time.

Gainesville leaders brought together area community leaders, advocacy organizations, academic institutions, health care providers and business partners to develop recommendations for immigrant inclusion in the city.

Language translation is just one facet of the 2022 Blueprint for Immigrant Inclusion, which will be unveiled at a public meeting March 29 at 3 p.m. at the Matheson History Museum, located at 513 E. University Ave.

Connie A. Bailey