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'At least it's better late than never': KC-area advocacy groups push for language access in city services

Kansas City advocacy groups push for Language Access in city services
Posted at 7:33 AM, Feb 22, 2024

KANSAS CITY, MO — Two Kansas City-area advocacy groups are joining forces to advocate for comprehensive language access across all city services. The efforts of these organizations aim to break down language barriers and ensure that every resident — regardless of their primary language — can fully access and benefit from essential city services.

The two groups, KC Tenants and Advocate for Immigrants Rights and Reconciliation (AIRR), have been working toward this cause, recognizing the importance of bridging the language gap in Kansas City.

“We wanna make sure that our immigrant community is involved in this society that we're migrating, we're moving here, we're living here, making our lives here," said Itzel Vargas, program coordinator for AIRR. "We should also feel comfortable to be a part of the city and access basic necessities from the city and not have language be that barrier."

Their mission is to create an environment where language is not a hindrance but rather a bridge that connects all residents to the resources and support they need.

Ordinance 240165, which was introduced earlier this month and will be voted on Feb. 22, would require all city services to accommodate to the necessary language.

What would Ordinance 240165 do?

  • Provide non-English speakers with an interpreter at all city services (health department, water department, City Council meetings)
  • Provide non-English speakers access to translated city documents
  • Establish an Office of Language Access in city hall
  • Creates a position, titled "a Language Access Officer," to oversee the work
  • Provide a budget of $900k for language access for 2024-25

For many migrants like Jali Castillo, who have now established a life in Kansas City, this ordinance means new possibilities, but it also allows them to feel seen.
"Necesitaríamos como no ser excluidos," said Castillo. "Porque se siente como que aparte, si no hablas inglés, o sea, no tienes muchas oportunidades de hacer muchas cosas. Entonces, es como una forma de que te excluyen.”

("We would need to not be excluded," said Castillo "Because it feels like apart from that, if you don't speak English, you don't have many opportunities to do many things. So, it's like a way of being excluded," said Castillo.)

Castillo has been living in the U.S. for seven years; she said since arriving, she has always depended on family, friends and sometimes even strangers to get help from city services. This ordinance would help bridge that gap.

“Pues sería una gran ayuda ya que cualquier documento te pueden hacer, cualquier traducción, pues abriría la puerta a muchos idiomas, a muchos idiomas que ahorita están matreando por alguien por hacer su trámite en ese momento," said Castillo.

("It would be a great help because any document can be translated. It would open the door to many different languages that fight for someone to do their paperwork at that moment," said Castillo.)

The Ordinance needs seven votes from the City Council in order for it to pass. Vargas said although it's long overdue, it's a step forward in helping these families who have become a part of our community.

"Why did it take so long, and why now? At least it's better late than never," said Vargas. "I have my assumptions as to why they're doing this now. And I think, also, it's just, again, not realizing how quickly the immigrant community in Kansas City is growing.”