Bill Introduced to Reward DEA Agents with Foreign Language Skills

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Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón (R-PR) introduced legislation in the House this week to provide the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Administrator with the authority to grant cash awards to DEA employees with foreign language skills. This legislation would mitigate the linguistic barriers to drug assistance and law enforcement practices.

House Resolution 2307 introduced this month mirrors legislation introduced in 2018 allowing the DEA Administrator to pay a cash reward up to 10 percent of the basic salary to any employee who “maintains command of a mission-critical language or languages ​​or who uses one or more languages ​​in the performance of official duties,” according to a press release translated from Spanish.

Resident Commissioner González Colón notes that 78 percent of the cocaine that enters the East Coast of the U.S. enters through Puerto Rico. Also, as the presidential administration attempts to combat the opioid epidemic, breaking linguistic barriers is particularly important.

Interviews with recovering addicts at the Casa Esperanza, a collection of day treatment, residential programs, and transitional housing in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, found that very few addiction treatment facilities are able to assist non-native English speakers.

Reports from WBUR explain, “Latinos interviewed for this story describe sitting through group counseling sessions, part of virtually every treatment program, and not being able to follow much, if any, of the conversation. They recall waiting for a translator to arrive for their individual appointment with a doctor or counselor and missing the session when the translator is late or doesn't show up at all. Eleven percent of the state’s estimated opioid overdose deaths last year were Latino.”

González Colón noted that open lines of communication with impacted communities is the first step in treating drug addiction and enforcing drug laws.

Under federal law 111-117, the Federal Bureau of Investigation already has the authority to grant cash awards to individuals with foreign language skills, and González Colón hopes to expand this award to DEA employees.

González Colón concluded her statement noting how beneficial bilingual officers would be on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Posted in From the Hill

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