Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Immigration judges, attorneys, translators opposed to substitution of video instruction for in-person translaters

The National Association of Immigration Judges, immigration attorneys, and the American Translators Association are criticizing a Trump administration plan to do away with in-person translation for initial deportation hearings, calling it “wrongheaded” and raising concerns about language issues, according to internal emails obtained by BuzzFeed News. According to the plan, which began in New York on July 15, immigrants appearing in initial deportation hearings will receive a video instruction — with subtitles — of the nature of the courtroom proceedings, their rights, obligations, and other frequently asked questions. immigrants will be unable to ask questions of judges during court proceedings unless they happen to have a bilingual lawyer or the judge manages to track down an interpreter who happens to be in the building or uses a telephonic interpreter system that often does not work.

The EOIR claims it has not eliminated interpreters because in-person and telephonic interpreters are available to conduct business after the video advisals are played. They tout the videos as increasing efficiency in overburdened courts.

Immigration attorneys claim that the videos are inadequate ("You can't ask a video a question. You can't ask a video to repeat something. You can't ask a video to rephrase something to make it clear,” said Jeremy McKinney of the American Immigration Lawyers Association) and that it may violate due process: “Individuals in court no longer have a meaningful opportunity to be heard because they literally can’t be,” said Claudine Murphy, an attorney with Immigration Justice Corps. “This is a severe due process violation.” Others point to Executive Order 13166, a rule passed in 2000 in order to improve access for people with Limited English Proficiency (LEP). The order, backed by the United States Department of Justice, requires federal agencies to identify any need for LEP services and to subsequently develop and implement a system to provide those services so that LEP individuals have meaningful access to them. In getting rid of in-person interpreters in immigration court, some are concerned that LEP individuals no longer have the rights they have been promised by the U.S. government.

Against the furor of the changes, I recently re-read Valeria Luselli's "Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions," a slim and elegantly written memoir from a volunteer translater in New York's immigration courts that won a 2018 American Book Award (previously reviewed on ImmigrationProf Blog). The book is narrated through the frame of 40 intake questions the translater routinely asked of Central American children preparing for court, most unaccompanied minors. While the task of asking questions and translating answers from Spanish into English may seem simple, she writes:

"nothing is ever that simple. I hear words, spoken in the mouths of chidlren, threaded in complex narratives. They are delivered with hesitance, sometimes distrust, always with fear. I have to transform them into written words, succinct sentences, and barren terms. The children's stories are always shuffled, stuttered, shattered beyond the repair of a narrative order. The problem of trying to tell their story is that it has no beginning, no middle, and no end."


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