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U.S. sides against Hawaii in English-only lawsuit

By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 12:51 p.m. HST, Mar 28, 2014


The U.S. Department of Justice is supporting a lawsuit alleging Hawaii discriminates against those who struggle with English by making it too difficult to obtain a driver's license.

Allegations in the lawsuit are sufficient to proceed with a discrimination claim, and the court should deny the state's motion to dismiss the case, the Justice Department said in court documents filed Thursday.

The federal government has a "critical interest" in ensuring the Hawaii Department of Transportation provides those with limited English proficiency a "meaningful opportunity" to take the driver's license test, the filing said.

The lawsuit filed last year by Faith Action for Community Equity is based on Hawaii offering the exam only in English. However, the Transportation Department last week began offering the test in 12 other languages: Tagalog, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Samoan, Tongan, Ilocano, Spanish, Chuukese, Marshallese and Hawaiian.

Plaintiffs' attorneys say that's not enough for the lawsuit to go away because other issues remain, including road testing issues and a lack of translations for educational materials such as the Hawaii driver's manual.

A report by the group behind the lawsuit said Hawaii was one of only five states that offered the driver's license test only in English.

"It's unusual to have an English-only policy," said Gavin Thornton, deputy director of the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice. "For Hawaii, it really doesn't make any sense at all given the diversity of our population. We have one of the most diverse populations in the nation."

He noted Kentucky offers 22 different translations, while Hawaii has a much higher immigrant population.

Transportation Department spokeswoman Caroline Sluyter said more than 100 people already have taken the test in languages other than English. The state attorney general's office didn't immediately comment.

The Department of Justice filing acknowledges the state's Feb. 14 news release announcing translated exams would be available this month.

"Issuing a press release is not sufficient evidence that the translated exams are actually being provided or that translations will not cease again thus plaintiffs maintain a claim for release," the Justice Department filing said.

The lawsuit claims that challenges for those with limited English skills in obtaining a driver's license hinder access to needs such as employment, education and health care.

It cites as an example plaintiff Tochiro Kochiro Kovac, a citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia who moved from Chuuk to Maui in 2008. Kovac "commutes to and from work using several buses for a total of five hours a day, approximately four hours more than he would if he were able to drive," the DOJ said.

The state's "refusal to provide interpreter services for driver's license exams discriminates against non-English speaking people," Claire Wong Black, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys said Friday. "We are pleased to have the DOJ's support."







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SteveToo wrote:
English and Hawaiian only. The rest of you learn our language.
on March 28,2014 | 09:18AM
HAJAA1 wrote:
You got that right.
on March 28,2014 | 09:21AM
awahana wrote:
If its by majority, the Hawaiian language would be in trouble.
Ilocano or Chukkese would be our state language.
on March 28,2014 | 11:28AM
Grimbold wrote:
It is totally crazy to allow all these people here. The steady decay visible and noticeable everywhere of Hawaii comes from that.
on March 28,2014 | 05:37PM
Grimbold wrote:
If they don't speak English and or Hawaiian they should not even be allowed into the USA. These people harm our culture by not being able to understand and follow even the simplest laws.
on March 28,2014 | 05:35PM
eastside808 wrote:
Seen people making left turns when it states only on arrow, but maybe it is not the inability to read English, but inability to just read. Federal government should just take care of national matters and not dictate State policy. People dont even know what red lights means so the ability to at least read signs in English is a must for the safety of cars and pedestrians alike. If people have minimal skills in reading then pay the yearly bus pass and learn English. This is America the last time I looked around and in America the huge majority of people speak and read some form of English.
on March 28,2014 | 09:20AM
cwo4usn wrote:
From my 20 years on the island, I guess over 50% of the current drivers don't understand written English. If you want to go down this path, why should I have to press "1" for English. Go to Japan, Korea, China...there is no press "2" for Engilish.
on March 28,2014 | 09:29AM
badcard36 wrote:
Exactly cwo4usn. I lived in Japan for two years and took the drivers license test there. All in Japanese. I failed but maybe there's a reason for that? Not like I could read the signs, etc. I did drive there for two years on an International Drivers License though but that's neither here nor there.
on March 28,2014 | 09:51AM
lee1957 wrote:
THe ability to read signs in English does not necessarily translate into better driving skills. There are plenty of idiotic English speaking drivers on the road here.
on March 28,2014 | 11:35AM
fairgame947 wrote:
It's a failure ALSO to just follow the law.
on March 28,2014 | 03:28PM
choyd wrote:
I don't know about you, but I've seen plenty of people parked on regular work weekday right by a sign that says "No Parking 3:30pm-6:30pm" when it's 5:30 pm. Not loading their cars, not dropping off/picking up people. Full on parked, sunshade up, cya later style. If you cannot either read a traffic/parking sign or be bothered to read a traffic/parking sign, you should not be allowed to drive. Just that simple.
on March 28,2014 | 04:19PM
peum wrote:
How about just English? All the street signs are in English and this is 'Murica.
on March 28,2014 | 09:32AM
SteveToo wrote:
But it's also Hawai`i
on March 28,2014 | 05:56PM
rayhawaii wrote:
If a person can't understand or read the test, that person should be allowed a translator who can read or explain the questions without giving the answers. Just like in court.
on March 28,2014 | 09:36AM
Fred01 wrote:
Will they have a translator in their car too once licensed to read the traffic signs to them?
on March 28,2014 | 09:49AM
toad103410 wrote:
Right on Fred01!
on March 28,2014 | 11:18AM
Skyler wrote:
Seriously!
on March 28,2014 | 11:29AM
lee1957 wrote:
The extended middle finger needs no translation.
on March 28,2014 | 11:37AM
Terii_Kelii wrote:
That would not be needed since it takes but a few days to study for the test in the foreign language and then take the foreign language test where demonstration of one's understanding of what the ENGLISH LANGUAGE signs say and require the driver to do would be tested as a standard of proficiency. The signs in the foreign language driver's manual / test would not be translated as that would not correlate to the reality of the signage in English. Never mind that the way too used STOP sign example is irrelevant because many countries whose citizens do not speak English use just that, signs that say STOP in English. It is sad how little Americans know about the rest of the world, such as the fact that their drivers mainly already know what STOP means. This ranting and raving about their supposed unfamiliarity with a STOP sign as well as other signs is so very risible. You must have all been featured on Jaywalking on the Tonight Show.
on March 28,2014 | 02:19PM
Grimbold wrote:
rayhawaii you have a great idea. And that person should have to hire a translator as passenger when driving.
on March 28,2014 | 05:39PM
serious wrote:
Welcome to Obama justice. Let's get the ballots in 12 languages so they can X the Democrats. I went to the IRS in the Fed building and noticed everything was in English and Spanish. I asked the agent--how many Spanish speaking people do you ever get here--he said--haven't seen one yet. Then why is everything in Spanish? He said--look at Home Depot--same thing--they don't want to appear discriminatory!! Where's John Wayne when you need him???
on March 28,2014 | 09:44AM
sonoma808 wrote:
I'm curious, on the driving test does the pictures with lets say a Stop sign, are these also translated into one of the 12 languages or is that still in English? Otherwise, will the state need to start providing 12 other languages for the other signs on the actual road (i.e. Stop, Yield, One Way, No Parking, etc.). If not, when they have to take the driving test, will they complain when they don't oblige a particular sign because it was in English and they took the test in another language. Or they receive a ticket, does the ticket also come in 12 other languages other than English so the driver can understand the ticket? How about when they go to the movies, restaurants, or other places of entertainment. Do we need to start putting those in the 12 other languages as well? And then movies will they start to be dubbed or subtitled for those who want to watch the movie in a different language? I mean come on...this is just ridiculous. This small thing can turn even bigger once precedent is set.
on March 28,2014 | 09:44AM
gtracer66 wrote:
For many years, immigrants came to America, speaking little or no English. They somehow managed to get along. Many made the effort to learn English while others kept withing ethnic enclaves and got along quite well. They eventually were assimilated in American culture. They were able to "fit in" because we all spoke a common language. If you remember the Bible story of the tower of Babal, God divided the people by causing them to speak different languages. A nation needs a common language to be a united country. Today, we are supposed to accommodate those who "invade" our shores illegally by forcing the rest of us to pay so government can provide services in every language short of Klingon (at least for now). English has been the glue that keeps America a single nation. If every new arrival is allowed to continue with their own language and customs, America will cease to exist as a sovereign and identifiable nation. No other nation in the world is as welcoming to immigrants America. Other countries have maintained their national identity in part by their language. Imagine going to France or Germany and finding everyone there speaking Arabic or Chinese. You'd hardly believe you were where you thought you were going. I do believe, due to our history in Hawaii, that the Hawaiian language should be given equal importance in our lives. After all, Hawaii was a sovereign nation at one time and Hawaiians (who were here first) should be able to live their heritage. I'd sooner be required to learn Hawaiian (I've been trying for years and it's been a struggle. I did better learning Latin.) than require the government to accommodate the language spoken by every new arrival.
on March 28,2014 | 09:58AM
DaMenace168 wrote:
Road Signs are in ENGLISH, not Japanese, Chinese, Spanish or Hebrew. If you can't read English, then you shouldn't be driving AND the roads would be much safer for the rest of us. Our school system teaches our children in English, so shall everything else. ACLU is creating more problems than solving them. To be a U.S. Citizen, it should require everyone to be able to read & speak English...end of problem.
on March 28,2014 | 10:15AM
AuntyM wrote:
Here we go wasting time and money again !!! English, English, English..... they are in America !
on March 28,2014 | 10:28AM
HD36 wrote:
Next, we'lll start an entire new agency to translate roadsides in 50 different languages.
on March 28,2014 | 04:35PM
mongoosa wrote:
Ok all of us blind people. We want it in Braille!
on March 28,2014 | 10:39AM
Mythman wrote:
The driving test is a joke - the inspectors can decide you drive or not drive based on a whim. Check it out. I "failed" three times in a row over several weeks then went to another state and got it in fifteen minutes
on March 28,2014 | 11:02AM
Skyler wrote:
I've never taken a driver's test in Hawaii that didn't seem fair. You're probably just a lousy driver.
on March 28,2014 | 11:28AM
control wrote:
Mythman, maybe driving on the wrong side of the road (or sidewalk) might be good in other states, but not in Hawaii. Just kidding......
on March 28,2014 | 12:27PM
Mythman wrote:
Let's turn that powerful federal spot light on everything Hawaii does that is discriminatory, DoJ, please!!!
on March 28,2014 | 11:00AM
serious wrote:
Mythman, I agree. We should have traffic signs in all 12 languages. Did Putin pick an NCAA winner? No! He has a country to run!!
on March 28,2014 | 01:20PM
Skyler wrote:
You meant 'overrun' ... amiright?
on March 28,2014 | 03:08PM
HD36 wrote:
That's not how the people of Crimea look at it.
on March 28,2014 | 04:37PM
Jonas wrote:
I'm going to move to China or Japan and demand to take my license in English. I wonder how they'll react? No worry - I will just sue them! I wonder if I will win? This country needs to stop catering to everyone.
on March 28,2014 | 11:02AM
toobn wrote:
All these immigrants that can't read English sure seem to do a proficient job in filling out the welfare applications.
on March 28,2014 | 11:15AM
Hawaii5OhOh wrote:
That is because the Department of Human Services (the State welfare agency) provides bilingual (translation) and sign (for the hearing impaired; you can't use the term deaf and dumb anymore) language services for free to anyone filling out the welfare forms. The languages covered are: Chinese, Chuukese, Hawaiian, Ilocano, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Marshallese, Pohnapeian, Samoan, Tagalog, Tongan, and Vietnamese.
on March 28,2014 | 02:39PM
Skyler wrote:
The state's "refusal to provide interpreter services for driver's license exams discriminates against non-English speaking people," Claire Wong Black, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys said Friday. "We are pleased to have the DOJ's support."

Why doesn't the 'non-English speaking people' learn enough English to take the test? Surely they have friends & relatives that can help them with the test materials. I don't know why they think 'the State' should provide this.
on March 28,2014 | 11:33AM
control wrote:
One bad instance of the law being abused just to be politically correct. IMHO, if you want to live in America, learn to speak English!
on March 28,2014 | 12:25PM
iwanaknow wrote:
If you are a translator.....................easy money ya?
on March 28,2014 | 12:05PM
torxman wrote:
I am from Maui and I don't know where this Micronesian lives on Maui, but there is no way for him to spend five hours a day on a bus, going to and home from work. I'm not saying that's a lie, but it's not true either.
on March 28,2014 | 12:10PM
control wrote:
Hana? lol. kidding. The guy probably lives upcountry and works in lahaina or something (kidding again).
on March 28,2014 | 12:25PM
sailfish1 wrote:
Maybe that guy is riding the wrong buses because the bus schedules and bus route maps are ONLY in English.
on March 28,2014 | 01:36PM
control wrote:
I agree with most here, if you can't understand English how can you read the signs on the road? IMHO they all should learn English. My grandparents did 50 years ago, immigrants now should also be required to know English if they want to stay here also.
on March 28,2014 | 12:23PM
sluggah wrote:
Ridiculous. Too many lawyers, not enough ambulances to chase.
on March 28,2014 | 12:27PM
MakaniKai wrote:
Don’t care that the commonwealth of Kentucky offers tests in 22 languages – seems over the top. If you cannot read English or Hawaiian (as all signage is in English or Hawaiian) then learn! Drivers that cannot read signs like the one at Richard St and South King Street that reads you can turn left on red from the left lane after stopping – and they sit there waiting for the green even though traffic was light on S. King Street. Totally agree with gtracer66 about the Hawaiian language. Lastly the Feds need to stay out of state issues! Ms. Claire Wong Black and others who don’t want to learn English please hop on da bus. Driving even for English speakers is a privilege and not a right guaranteed under law.
on March 28,2014 | 12:36PM
MakaniKai wrote:
Don’t care that the commonwealth of Kentucky offers tests in 22 languages – seems over the top. If you cannot read English or Hawaiian (as all signage is in English or Hawaiian) then learn! Drivers that cannot read signs like the one at Richard St and South King Street that reads you can turn left on red from the left lane after stopping – and they sit there waiting for the green even though traffic was light on S. King Street. Totally agree with gtracer66 about the Hawaiian language. Lastly the Feds need to stay out of state issues! Citizens who don’t want to learn English please hop on da bus. Driving even for English speakers is a privilege and not a right guaranteed under law.
on March 28,2014 | 12:39PM
MakaniKai wrote:
Sent for approval.......................oh well.
on March 28,2014 | 12:40PM
Big C wrote:
Actually, everything in the UNITED STATES should be English only. Non of these business sign / vehicle sign that are not in English. Live in America, learn the language. Otherwise move out. If I were to move to a foreign country, I would try to learn how to communicate in their language or suffer for my own lack of communication skills. Stop having the general public (taxpayer's) pay for this type of "non-English" expenditures.
on March 28,2014 | 12:45PM
MakaniKai wrote:
Don't care the the commonwealth of Kentucky offers tests in 22 languages - seems over the top. If you cannot read English or Hawaiian (as signage is in both languages) then learn! Drivers that cannot read signs like the one at Richards St. and S. King St. that reads you can turn left on red from the left lane after stopping - and drivers will sit waiting for the green even though traffic is light on S. King. Totally agree with gtracer66 about the Hawaiian language. The Feds need to stay out of state issues! Citizens who don't want to learn English please hop on da bus. Driving even for English speakers is a privilege and not a right guaranteed under law.
on March 28,2014 | 12:47PM
false wrote:
Never seen any traffic signs in Hawaiian on Oahu. Where are they?
on March 28,2014 | 01:47PM
walaau808 wrote:
Signage is in Hawaiian...and they're everywhere!
on March 28,2014 | 02:32PM
false wrote:
Give examples please.
on March 28,2014 | 02:53PM
Skyler wrote:
Traffic signage... not street names... oi.
on March 28,2014 | 03:11PM
Geb wrote:
Three generations ago my great grandparents came to Hawaii to work on the sugar cane plantations. They spoke no English but they put a priority on learning the language and made damn sure that their kids learned English as their first language. Its called assimilation, something our current immigrants don't seem to understand or care about.
on March 28,2014 | 01:48PM
Carang_da_buggahz wrote:
This country is falling apart little by little each day. "E Pluribus Unum" (Out of Many, One). It's basic COMMON SENSE; if we're not all on the same page speaking the same language, how the heck are we working towards a common goal? This pandering to each and every immigrant group in a misguided attempt to appear Politically Correct is insane. If you can't even speak our common language, how the heck are you gonna read signage that affects public safety? This insanity is increasingly fragmenting American society with a certain sizable portion of our population demonstrating absolutely NO intention of assimilating into the larger culture. They want all the privileges and benefits that our overly generous government provides but care not about contributing to the greater good which has provided for them. This has got to stop or it will eventually be the end of us in a few generations. Our founding fathers could not have possibly envisioned the ridiculous lengths we have gone through to accommodate each and every immigrant group, legal or not.
on March 28,2014 | 02:12PM
HD36 wrote:
Yes another step of usurping the power of the state into the hands of the federal government.
on March 28,2014 | 04:45PM
Hawaiiobserver wrote:
People of different languages should LEARN ENGLISH!!! Enough to get by and drive!! What's the point of driving when you don't know enough English to read the signs?
on March 28,2014 | 02:32PM
Bdpapa wrote:
How sad, we have come to this.
on March 28,2014 | 03:30PM
titasmom wrote:
So are we supposed to provide translators after they get their license too? I mean, how are they going to read signs that are in English telling them " Detour ahead, left lane only in 1000 feet" or "Pothole repair work Mon - Thurs from 9am - 3pm". That's just crazy. If you are going to move to a part of the world that speaks another language, you better learn that language first!
on March 28,2014 | 04:22PM
NoFlippinWay wrote:
This is a bit ridiculous. My Japanese girlfriend spent days studying to get her driver's license last year and never complained once about it being in english. To her, it makes complete sense for someone to be able to comprehend english in order to drive here. So many immigrants come here and expect us, the country 'they' decided to migrate to, to adapt and make changes for them. Come on man, we're not out to pick on you when we expect that you have some grasp of the english language. I support that they are trying to start a better life here in America and respect their cultural traditions but I wish some of them would understand that they should learn some of our ways, values and traditions. Being able to speak english is a foundation to living a good and prosperous life in the US in my opinion. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
on March 28,2014 | 04:35PM
HD36 wrote:
Suprisingly alot of cab drivers can barely speak english. They also drive like it.
on March 28,2014 | 04:47PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
What's next, road signs in 12 languages? The whole issue just defies logic and common sense. Only in America could something this stupid be taken into a court of Law.
on March 28,2014 | 06:17PM
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