FARMINGTON — An advocacy group has filed a federal complaint against the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, saying its English-only website is a civil rights violation.
The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty last week filed the civil rights complaint, saying efforts to work with the department to improve its language access proved fruitless.
Maria Martinez Sanchez, a staff attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said the online application hurts not only immigrants, but also residents who speak Spanish or Navajo, and rural residents who do not have access to computers.
"It's not just immigrants that this is affecting," Sanchez said. "There are also a lot of people that were born and raised here who still feel more comfortable in Spanish. To say that this is just an immigrant issue is incorrect."
Sanchez emphasized that undocumented immigrants are not eligible for unemployment benefits.
The access issue also affects Native American communities, Sanchez said.
"They should have every right to receive the benefits of unemployment as anyone else, and in their native language," she said.
The group's complaint stems from an online unemployment insurance system Workforce Solutions launched in January. The online application is available only in English.
Sanchez said the group has met repeatedly with Workforce Solutions but the conversations have not resulted in changes.
"They're unwilling to change or even acknowledge there's a problem," she said.
A Workforce Solutions spokeswoman did not return messages seeking comment Monday afternoon.
New Mexico had a 6.9 percent unemployment rate in July, with 64,566 residents who were out of work and seeking jobs. San Juan County had 4,236 residents looking for work.
Attorneys for the Center on Law and Poverty said the access issues violate portions of the Civil Rights Act.
"We've heard too many stories similar to that of the woman who traveled all the way from Roswell to our office in Albuquerque to receive assistance with filing her claim because she did not speak English," said Tess Wilkes, a staff attorney for Center on Law and Poverty. "To think that the barriers the new system presents are only hurting a few of our state's residents ignores a larger pattern that we've documented. A significant sector of New Mexico's residents is suffering as a result of this new system."