Immigration fueling Philly’s growth, but city struggling to offer documents, services in other languages

Immigrants and legal advocates say some government services are still inaccessible to non-English speakers.

Philadelphia’s population has grown for the last seven years in a row, in large part thanks to foreign immigrants moving into the city. But immigrants and legal advocates told a City Council committee Thursday some government services are still inaccessible to non-English speakers.

City documents aren’t always translated into other languages, they said, and the schools cut many of their bilingual counseling assistants.

Also, Philly’s polling places need more interpreters, said Nancy Nguyen, a branch manager for Boat People SOS of the Delaware Valley.

“Many newly-naturalized Vietnamese citizens are eager to vote, but in the last presidential election we encountered a lot of problems,” she said. “We found only four interpreters in the entire city for 1,600 poll sites.”

Rorng Sorn, executive director of the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, said the city could kill two birds with one stone if it hired more bilingual workers.

“If bilingual Asian-Americans were to be staffed directly in the City of Philadelphia offices, it would greatly facilitate the process of making sure members of our community were served,” she said. “It would also give needed jobs to this community.”

Philadelphia Human Services Director Albert D’Attilio said the local government is looking into giving preference to some job applicants who are bilingual.

A legal aid attorney warned at the council hearing that if services are not accessible to non-English speakers, then the local government could lose federal funding.

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