Legal Vulnerabilities of Unassimilated Latinos in America Today
Latinos are the largest minority in America. Making up 18 percent of the total U.S. population and nearly 25 percent of millennials, the community is both massive—and massively underserved by the legal sector.
The unassimilated Latino population, largely recent immigrants, is most at risk. Many are coming to the United States from countries without a solid civil court structure and are therefore less likely to understand the American legal system. Additionally, because undocumented Latino individuals and families by definition have immigration and authorization issues, access to even the most basic services can be terrifying. Simply driving to work or going to the doctor can seem dangerous, eliciting fear that one misstep could quickly uproot their lives.
Because undocumented Latino individuals and families by definition have immigration and authorization issues, access to even the most basic services can be terrifying.
Imagine finding the courage to seek out legal support!
Yet legal services are absolutely critical for this exceptionally vulnerable population. For example, we know that this minority group represents a greater percentage of permanent or catastrophic injury and accident victims. Sadly, Latino workers have the highest occupational fatal injury rate among major ethnic groups, accounting for over 900 reported fatal work injuries in the United States in 2015.
There is a clear disconnect between at-risk Latinos and the legal teams that could help them. Just as immigrants are fearful of retribution and Latinos long established in America are unsure of legal rights, accident attorneys and law firms that handle mass torts like hernia mesh, Mesothelioma, and the use of talcum powder often do not even realize that these cases disproportionally involve Latinos.
How can we address this serious gap in the legal system?
Understanding and Advocating for Latinos Living in the United States
First and foremost, lawyers must address major cultural misunderstandings about the reality of Latino life in America, along with inherited legal vulnerabilities. Attorneys and other service professionals have historically lacked the fundamental knowledge and skills to appropriately speak to, engage with, and advocate for the Latino community.
To become a vital resource for unassimilated Latinos, attorneys—especially those who handle the types of cases largely affecting this marginalized group—must first perform greater due diligence in understanding the unique values that drive this demographic.
Attorneys should learn to create more relevant messages that respect the nuances of a family-driven culture. For example, with respect to issues of legal access and compensation, communication should include the whole family, not just an injured individual. Future benefits and the opportunity for representation without an upfront fee have also proven important to Latinos.
To build loyalty, law firms should be actively educating Latinos about the ways in which they can be adversely affected, together with their right to act in these circumstances. For example, in California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law Bill AB2159, which ensures that an injured person is fairly compensated for future lost income and medical costs, regardless of his or her immigration status.
In all of these efforts, proper translation is paramount. A word used in one language often does not translate directly, and words can have different connotations in different languages. Messages that resonate in the non-Latino market may not cross cultural barriers. Rather than relying on Google Translate, law firms should invest in Spanish-speaking copywriters to produce content.
It is the responsibility of America's lawyers to find more informed ways of talking to Latinos.
Forward-thinking attorneys are finally hiring bilingual staff and leveraging websites, social media, targeted Spanish TV and radio outlets, and networking opportunities in the minority community to provide free informational resources in both English and Spanish.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of America’s lawyers to find more informed ways of talking to Latinos. Only then will the legal profession realize its vast potential to advocate for one of America’s most underserved communities.
Mary Ann Walker is the Executive Chair of the Board, Walker Advertising, and Managing Partner of Walker Harding LLP Maryann@walkerhardinglaw.com
About the Author
Latin American Program
The Wilson Center’s prestigious Latin American Program provides non-partisan expertise to a broad community of decision makers in the United States and Latin America on critical policy issues facing the Hemisphere. The Program provides insightful and actionable research for policymakers, private sector leaders, journalists, and public intellectuals in the United States and Latin America. To bridge the gap between scholarship and policy action, it fosters new inquiry, sponsors high-level public and private meetings among multiple stakeholders, and explores policy options to improve outcomes for citizens throughout the Americas. Drawing on the Wilson Center’s strength as the nation’s key non-partisan forum, the Program serves as a trusted source of analysis and a vital point of contact between the worlds of scholarship and action. Read more