Poverty and Public Health
9:48 am
Fri August 16, 2013

Group Alleges New Mexico Agency Discriminates Against Non-English Speakers

Credit Geoff Peters 604 via Flickr

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty alleges the state's Department of Workforce Solutions — the entity responsible for unemployment benefits — is violating federal civil rights laws by discriminating against non-English speakers.

Approximately 63,000 people are currently unemployed in New Mexico. It's also estimated that nearly a third of New Mexicans speak a language other than English in the home, and that's part of the problem.

In order to apply for unemployment benefits from the Department of Workforce Solutions, individuals can call or apply online. However, the online application is only in English.

Maria Martinez Sanchez, with the Center on Law and Poverty, says federal law prohibits agencies that receive federal funding from discrimination based on national origin, and in this case, language.

"In light of the state of our economy right now, the number of people unemployed, the economy of New Mexico and the fact that people are struggling right now, the Department should really be taking extra steps to bring in as many people to apply for it's services as it can, and it just seems to us like they're doing the opposite," Sanchez said.

Joy Forehand with the Department of Workforce Solutions said Spanish-speakers can access services through a toll-free number.

"We've always had dedicated unemployment insurance customer service agents that are Spanish-speaking for our Spanish-speaking individuals," Forehand said.

Forehand said the agency will respond to the civil rights complaint in accordance with existing guidelines.