[8/26/16] Resources for translating for these communities is a big issue

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The large wildfires burning in Eastern Washington have prompted Governor Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency in 20 counties. Although this year’s in-state fire season has been quiet, wildfires now threaten homes and businesses. As state agencies mobilize to help the victims, Ellicott Dandy of the immigrants’ advocacy group OneAmerica says non-English speakers could be left behind. She says the state has done a poor job reaching out to immigrant communities in the past to make sure they’re prepared in the event of a disaster.

Dandy says language is perhaps the biggest barrier to reaching non-English speakers. In the last legislative session, a bill was introduced to mandate that public notices be provided in languages other than English, but it didn’t pass in the House. In last year’s wildfires, Dandy says relief agencies relied on Google Translate for emergency messages, and that led to misunderstandings:

Dandy adds that resources for translating for these communities is a big issue. She says neither state nor federal agencies have prioritized reaching out to non-English speakers.

Immigrant populations are some of the state’s fastest-growing communities. Dandy says that’s what makes this an urgent matter.

After last year’s wildfires, the state received more than 170-million dollars in federal disaster relief, but Dandy says undocumented immigrants and those with visas are ineligible for relief assistance unless they live in a household with a U.S. Citizen, or have a green card.