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 LEP Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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Who is Limited English Proficient (LEP)? 

Individuals who do not speak English as their primary language and who have a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English can be limited English proficient, or "LEP." These individuals may be entitled language assistance with respect to a particular type or service, benefit, or encounter. 

What laws protect language access for LEP individuals? 

Federal laws particularly applicable to language access include Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Title VI regulations, prohibiting discrimination based on national origin, and Executive Order 13166 issued in 2000. Many individual federal programs, states, and localities also have provisions requiring language services for LEP individuals. (See Federal LEP for more details on these protections) Questions and Answers taken from LEP.gov, http://lep.gov/faq.html.  

What is Executive Order 13166? 

An Executive Order is an order given by the President to federal agencies. Executive Order 13166 "Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency" states that people who are LEP should have meaningful access to federally conducted and federally funded programs and activities. Executive Order 13166 requires all agencies that provide federal financial assistance to issue guidance on how recipients of that assistance can take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access consistent with Title VI and the Title VI regulations. The Order also requires that federal agencies create plans for ensuring that their own activities also provide meaningful access for persons who are LEP.

Where Does the Four Factor Test Come From? 

The Four Factor Test found in the DOJ and other LEP Guidance documents is based on 28 CFR 42.405(d)(1):

"Where a significant number or proportion of the population eligible to be served or likely to be directly affected by a federally assisted program (e.g., affected by relocation) needs service or information in a language other than English in order effectively to be informed of or to participate in the program, the recipient shall take reasonable steps, considering the scope of the program and the size and concentration of such population, to provide information in appropriate languages to such persons. This requirement applies with regard to written material of the type which is ordinarily distributed to the public."  http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2008/julqtr/28cfr42.405.htm.  

Who is a Recipient? 

"The term recipient means any State, political subdivision of any State, or instrumentality of any State or political subdivision, any public or private agency, institution, or organization, or other entity, or any individual, in any State, to whom Federal financial assistance is extended, directly or through another recipient, for any program, including any successor, assign, or transferee thereof, but such term does not include any ultimate beneficiary under any such program. The term primary recipient means any recipient which is authorized or required to extend Federal financial assistance to another recipient for the purpose of carrying out a program." http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/grants_statutes/legalman.php#Regs

Who Enforces the Rights of LEP Individuals? 

Most federal agencies have an office that is responsible for enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. To the extent that a recipient's actions are inconsistent with their obligations under Title VI, then such agencies will take the necessary corrective steps. The Coordination and Review Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice has taken the lead in coordinating and implementing Executive Order 13166.

How Many LEP Individuals live in the United States? 

Most individuals living in the United States read, write, speak and understand English. There are many individuals, however, for whom English is not their primary language. For instance, based on the 2000 census, over 26 million individuals speak Spanish and almost 7 million individuals speak an Asian or Pacific Island language at home. If these individuals have a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English, they are limited English proficient, or "LEP."  (Taken From http://www.archives.gov/eeo/laws/title-vi.html#intro)

What barriers do LEP individuals confront? 

Language for LEP individuals can be a barrier to accessing important benefits or services, understanding and exercising important rights, complying with applicable responsibilities, or understanding other information provided by federally funded programs and activities. (Taken From http://www.archives.gov/eeo/laws/title-vi.html#intro )

What is National Origin Discrimination? 

National origin discrimination is discrimination against an individual because of their spoken language or ancestry. Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974).. The Supreme Court has described how for "certain ethnic groups and in some communities, that proficiency in a particular language, like skin color, should be treated as a surrogate for race” and discrimination based on the language spoken by an individual is prohibited under the Constitution. See Saint Francis College v. Al-Khazraji, 481 U.S. 604, 614 (1987).

In another Federal case, the Second Circuit described how the terms “nationality” and “national” origin may be used interchangeably "because racial categories may overlap significantly with nationality or ethnicity, the line between discrimination on account of race and discrimination on account of national origin may be so thin as to be indiscernible." See Deravin v. Kerik, 335 F.3d 195, 201-2 (2d Cir.2003)

Where Can I Get Answers to More Questions? 

The Department of Justice has developed a Q and A section of its site, that has answers to further questions about LEP and Executive Order 13166, available here

Frequently Asked Questions
Federal LEP
Title VI
Executive Order 13166
DOJ LEP Guidance
Federal Agency Guidance
LEP Topics
Court Access
Domestic Violence
Employment /Unemployment
Food Stamp Program
Health Care Services
Law Enforcement
Legal Services and Attorneys
Public Housing
Social Security
LEP Statistics
Census Data
Other Group Data
Resources and Training
Language Access Guides
Language Access Training
Model LEP Plans
New York Resources

Last Updated: March 10, 2009 ● Empire Justice Center © 2009