A few years ago, we flipped Nebraska's tourism slogan around for a bumper sticker: “Honestly, Nebraska should be for everyone.” It’s a lofty goal given the scope of challenges we face but at the ACLU, we’re committed to putting in the work to ensure that one day we get to a state that really is for all of us. Case in point: our newest report.
In “Justice in any Language,” we survey 19 law enforcement agencies on their efforts to provide meaningful language access to people with limited English proficiency. This is a sizable group. Census numbers show over 81,000 Nebraskans have limited English proficiency and 11.5% of the state’s population speak a language other than English at home.
Federal law requires law enforcement agencies receiving federal funds ensure people with limited English proficiency have meaningful access to agency services. Unfortunately, we found most of the agencies we surveyed aren’t meeting best practices or ensuring compliance with federal law and are not in full alignment with U.S. Department of Justice recommendations.
Ensuring our law enforcement agencies have ways to interact with Nebraskans who have limited English proficiency is important from a legal perspective and critical to building relationships between community members and law enforcement officers that are founded on trust – which must be earned – safety and respect.
For example, 63% of the law enforcement agencies we surveyed did not have a written policy on interacting with Nebraskans who have limited English proficiency. Only 26% of the agencies surveyed had at least one officer attend training on the topic.
While our report highlights shortcomings that must be addressed, there are also signs of progress.
Approximately 80% of the group we surveyed have at least one multilingual officer on staff, and some agencies – like the Nebraska State Patrol – are actively recruiting multilingual team members with a 2.5% pay bump to starting pay.
The report includes quotes from community partners – and Immigrant Legal Center Legal Director Anna Deal makes a great point on why accessibility matters. She wrote “our communities are safer when everyone, regardless of languages spoken, feels valued and heard by those entrusted to keep us safe.”
Bottom line, we’re committed to not only identifying issues facing our communities, but also providing solutions. Just like our report on racial profiling contributed to the passage of a 2020 law requiring antibias training, we hope this new data will help move us closer to a state that truly is for everyone.