For Pacific Islanders, Hopes and Troubles in Arkansas

Legal Aid of Arkansas has helped Marshall Islanders with a civil rights petition to the Arkansas state government asking for a Marshallese-language driver’s test.

News Story (Arkansas)

Bret Schulte
New York Times (NYT)
July 12, 2012
Link to story

Tags: Civil Rights, Immigration Process, Language Access, Legal Needs

Organizations mentioned/involved: Legal Aid of Arkansas (LAA) (Jonesboro, AR)


Almost all of [Marshall Islanders] live in this working-class town in the northwest corner of the state, where Tyson Foods has its headquarters. They arrived here hoping to escape poverty and poor health: their nation ranks third in tuberculosis deaths per capita. Diabetes is rampant. Leprosy still lurks.
A 1986 compact gave the United States continued military access, while the Marshallese got the right to work and live in the United States indefinitely without visas. More than a third of the Marshallese — about 20,000 — have seized the opportunity. Marshallese politicians routinely fly the 6,000 miles to campaign here, and in 2008 the Marshall Islands opened a consulate on Spring Street, above a barbershop.
A few days later, Ms. Laelan was out working on another cause: persuading state officials to offer a Marshallese-language driver’s test. Few can pass the English test, but many must drive to work or to the doctor’s office. As a court translator, she sees Marshallese incur fines and jail time. Some lose their jobs.

Ms. Laelan and lawyers from Legal Aid of Arkansas have petitioned the State Police, which administers the test, and are considering filing complaints with the federal Transportation Department. “We tried asking nicely, and that didn’t work,” Casey Bryant, a Legal Aid lawyer, said. “The lack of language access can be seen as a violation of the Civil Rights Act.”