New York DMV Failing Immigrants on Language Access

Last week, the New York State Comptroller published an audit report on Language Services at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), covering October 2020 through April 2023. The report found that State and county DMV offices were consistently failing to live up to the statewide language access policy by not offering adequate interpretation services, including sometimes not using the Language Line at all, having extremely long hold times for the Language Line, and not properly tracking interpretation data.

Murad Awawdeh, Executive Director, New York Immigration Coalition:

“New York State expanded its language access policy to ensure that more New Yorkers would be able to access government services in the language that they speak. However, the NYS Comptroller’s recent report shows that the DMV has failed to live up to its obligations to New Yorkers by not fully implementing its language access mandate across the state. We applaud the Office of the State Comptroller for this audit, and for their dedication to improving language services, in New York. These findings underscore the need for the Language Access Expansion Act S.3383-A (Kennedy)/ A.7235 (De Los Santos), which would vastly increase access to language services across the State by mandating county agencies provide language services. Additionally, New York State must invest in the development of a multilingual state workforce by creating language services cooperatives for the training and hiring of interpreters and translators to ensure NYS can live up to its mandate.”


Context and Key Findings

  • The objective of the report was to determine if the DMV is adequately serving the needs of individuals with Limited English Proficiency, and is in compliance with Executive Order 26.1 and the New York State Language Access Policy (§ 202-A of the Executive Law), enacted in 2022 following years of work and advocacy by the NYIC Language Access Campaign and legislative allies. 
  • New York state Executive Law requires agencies to translate vital documents into the 12 most common non-English languages based on Census Survey data.
  • An estimated 300,000 individuals speak a language outside the top 12, including Ukrainian, Portuguese and Bosnian.
  • There are 30 State DMVs in 11 counties and 100 county DMVs in the remaining 51 counties. When an interpreter is needed, DMV staff can call a contracted vendor, Language Line Solutions. From October 2020 to September 2022, the Language Line took 160,276 calls from state DMV offices and 189 from county offices. State DMV calls covered 96 different languages, with Spanish and Mandarin the two most common. County DMV calls were most often Spanish and Russian translation services.
  • Twenty two of 28 of DMV county offices visited, including Erie county, were not using Language Line. Because they are offices run by County Clerks, State DMV does not have the authority to enforce its language access policies – despite these county offices accounting for over 75% of the total customer-facing Department offices. 
  • The DMV does not track customers’ language needs outside of the calls to Language Line or use publicly available census data to see what language needs exist around the state.
  • Language Line did not meet its 24 hours/365 days a year phone service expectations, which include providing on-demand interpretation services for all languages and dialects needed.
  • Calls for 20 different languages averaged 30 minutes or more on hold, with one hold time of over 5 hours. DMV noted other complaints with the service, including disconnected calls, a lack of interpreters and problems with dialects.