Chicago Language Access Ordinance is a “Good Start”

May 6, 2015

Contact: Andy Kang
773.271.0899 x222


However, City Council must make emergency services accessible

CHICAGO – A coalition of Chicago-based civic engagement and civil rights groups recognizes the language access ordinance passed by the Chicago City Council as a good first step in improving access to city services for limited-English proficient Chicagoans. However, the groups, including Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago (Advancing Justice | Chicago), Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and South Asian American Policy and Research Institute (SAAPRI) urge the Council to soon expand the ordinance to apply to other essential departments, including emergency services and the Chicago Public School system.

“Improved language access policies are still needed for emergency services such as police and fire departments,” said Andy Kang, Advancing Justice | Chicago’s Legal Director. “Being able to communicate with someone in their language is paramount, especially in emergency situations where time is of the essence. We will continue to work with the City Council, Mayor’s Office, and emergency services departments to extend these services to all Chicagoans.”

Significantly, the new language access ordinance will require language assistance in Hindi, a reflection of the rapidly growing South Asian American community in the region, including those with limited English proficiency. “When diverse immigrant communities gain language access to all city services, it will lead to positive social and fiscal change that ultimately will benefit all Chicagoans,” said Ami Gandhi, Executive Director of SAAPRI.  The ordinance will also require increased assistance in Spanish, Chinese, Polish, and Arabic, and includes protection for emerging populations which do not yet have the population numbers to otherwise be covered by the ordinance.

“Providing adequate language access is a crucial building block in the full integration of immigrants and other foreign language speakers, and we welcome the City’s action today as a step in this direction. We are also pleased with the step toward an official municipal ID, which we have consistently advocated as a means of further improving life for Chicago’s immigrant communities,” said Fred Tsao, ICIRR Senior Policy Counsel. “However, we will carefully monitor the review process to make sure the system is working to benefit all those who are limited-English proficient.”

“In order for the needs of diverse language groups to be addressed in the City of Chicago, it is imperative that community organizations who represent these groups work together to continue to improve the language access ordinance,” said Aarón Siebert-Llera, Legislative Staff Attorney at MALDEF. “Only then can a united voice be heard and understood by all.”

Also today, the City Council passed a reparations ordinance for survivors of police torture and their families. The groups above recognize the longstanding efforts by survivors and organizations, including Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, in advocating for reparations. Regardless of race, English proficiency, national origin, religion, or other characteristics, all Chicagoans deserve to be treated with dignity and respect by personnel from all city departments.


Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago is the leading pan-Asian, multi-issue organization in the Midwest dedicated to empowering the Asian American community through advocacy by utilizing education, research, and coalition-building. Established in 1992, Advancing Justice | Chicago (formerly the Asian American Institute) was founded by a group of visionary Chicago community activists, academicians, and business leaders in response to the growing need to build a pan-Asian policy agenda among Chicago’s diverse Asian American communities. Advancing Justice | Chicago projects a united voice on the most pressing issues of concern to Asian Americans in metropolitan Chicago.

Advancing Justice | Chicago is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. It is a member of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice national affiliation, with partner affiliates in Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.