Justice Department Announces Final Resolution of Language Access Civil Rights Matter in Fort Bend County, Texas
The Justice Department announced it has secured a final resolution in its civil rights matter involving the Fort Bend County (FBC) courts. FBC has complied with all the terms of a June 2021 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) and as a result, the department is closing the matter.
The department initially opened the matter based on allegations that FBC courts discriminated against people with limited English proficiency (LEP) based on their national origin and retaliated against a complainant in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) which prohibits race, color and national origin discrimination by any recipient of federal financial assistance. One complaint alleged that the FBC District Court denied a criminal defendant with LEP a Vietnamese interpreter he needed for a plea hearing and said that the defendant or his attorney must find and pay for a Vietnamese interpreter. On June 29, 2021, the department and FBC resolved the investigation with an MOA that required significant changes to FBC’s language access policies for court users with LEP.
Since then, FBC has made significant changes to improve access for court users with LEP and to comply with Title VI requirements. For example, FBC:
“The new policies and practices adopted by the Fort Bend County courts are helping to provide meaningful language access for people with limited English proficiency,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “I hope other court systems follow Fort Bend County’s example and take action to provide interpreter services to court users at no cost. Access to justice in our country should not be limited or denied simply because of your proficiency in English.”
“Fort Bend County is one of the most diverse counties in Texas where almost half the population is of Spanish, East Asian and South Asian origin. As a prosecutor, an immigrant and the son of Indian-born, working-class parents, I have seen, first-hand, the struggles of America’s newest residents who speak English as a second language, and the need for interpreters, especially during court proceedings,” said U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani for the Southern District of Texas. “Because of the hard work of the prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas and at the Civil Right Division, all residents, irrespective of national origin, will have full access to the court system to handle everything from family court matters, criminal and general civil matters. I look forward to working with other counties and the Office of Court Administration to replicate these efforts throughout the Southern District of Texas.”
This matter was handled jointly by attorneys in the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.