Thursday, May 23, 2019

“Please hold for the interpreter.”

Guest post by Marlon Bayas, a rising 3L at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University

“No attorneys today, right?” asked the monotone government attorney. “Nah, just one and they’re gonna need a creole interpreter” replied the court room guard as he stared at his phone, slouched in his chair. The bright, white fluorescent lights in the court room illuminated every detail of the detainees’ being. Their despondent, tiresome faces. Some lost in their prayers for hope. Others with palpable displays of disinclination.

Everyone shot up into the air as Judge Olga Attias entered. Upon learning that two of the detainees were Eritrean, the Judge called “Interpretalk” for a Tigrinya language—not creole—interpreter on speakerphone. Soft, upbeat-jazz with ascending arpeggios and major tones emanated from the court room speakers. The music was in stark contrast to the collective orchestra of sighs and nervous shuffling of the detainees. After the call was dropped and another had to be made, I thought, “Is this a joke?” This time, somber piano notes with melancholy harmonies plagued the room.

Finally, an interpreter answered, putting an end to this mockery. The Judge, in a pleasant yet stern voice, read the nine detainees their rights as a group for thirty minutes. “Do you understand your rights?” she asked, quickly followed by the interpreter. Her question was met by a sea of half-raised dark-skinned hands.

She began the first detainee’s case, reading him the short list of allegations from his “Notice to Appear” (NTA). Each allegation met with immediate honesty. Within just a minute of questioning, the judge sustained the order of removal against him. A sharp pain shot through my chest as questions furiously swarmed the inside of my skull like crows surrounding newly dead flesh. I was lost in my thoughts, trying to understand in what world this could be justice. “I want you treat this asylum application like a full-time job” I suddenly heard the judge demand. Taken aback, I sat there as the detainees life changed twice within minutes. “Thank you, your honor,” he replied, this time in English, as he unsuccessfully attempted to conceal his smile.

This is an average day in Immigration Court at Otay Mesa.

-posted by KitJ on behalf of Marlon Bayas

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