Immigration Interpreting & 3

Language Accessibility Challenges

Immigration interpreting work is increasing in demand in the United States. An estimated 44.9 million immigrants are living in the U.S today; and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for immigration interpreters and translators will increase by 20 percent over the next 10 years— average industries only grow by about four percent. Immigration interpreters relay spoken communication between federal officials, migrants, and their attorneys at a non-citizen’s level of understanding of the system’s processes and policies. They work with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and fluent bilingual individuals in the United States. .

Within the immigration context, language accessibility refers to the ability of non-citizens to engage in immigration processes in their primary language of origin. As of 2018, approximately 89% of immigration court hearings were interpreted to migrants in a language other than English. Under federal law every government agency receiving federal funds- including state and local agencies- must make a reasonable effort to provide meaningful language access for LEP individuals. Language Accessibility policies have, for the most part, gone unchallenged since Bill Clinton had it written into law in 2000. These requirements apply to everyone residing in the United States, including those in the immigration system. 

But just how accessible is the immigration process, especially for Limited English Proficiency individuals? While there are numerous problems, here are the top 3:

Lack of Immigration Interpreters for Indigenous Central American Migrants

Over the decades, several million central American migrants have sought refuge in the United States; due in large part to economic instability, wars, corrupt governments, and desires to reunite with relatives who have already emigrated. In 2018, indigenous Mayan languages such as K’iche and Mam rose to the top 15 of immigration court languages. As current political events unfold in places like Venezuela and Guatemala, the limited number of indigenous language speakers makes translation services incredibly difficult, which often delays or even prevents proceedings. Furthermore, existing policies assume that migrant populations are literate in their native language, and therefore have the literacy capability to review forms in their native language. According to the Migration Policy Center as of 2018, approximately 30% of indigenous speaking migrants from Central American nations were literate in their native language.

Affirmative Asylum Applicants Must Find Their Own Immigration Interpreters

Affirmative Asylum Applicants is a term that refers to a person who is not undergoing removal or deportation proceedings. These immigrants may proactively apply for asylum through U.S. government, with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Unfortunately, affirmative asylum applicants must find their own immigration interpreters and translators as the USCIS does not provide them. They do however, provide an asylum officer to verify the correctness of interpretation and translation. If any errors are found, the applicant must find a different translator or interpreter which may delay or postpone their application. For a limited english proficiency individual, simply going through the process of seeking asylum in the United States can be overwhelming in and of itself, let alone having to find your own interpreter and translator.

Immigration Interpreters are Not At the United States Boarder

When people are stopped at the Mexico-United States boarder, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Boarder Patrol agents must identify the language of migrants. As most migrants at the southern boarder list Spanish as their primary language, agents are given eight weeks of Spanish training and are tested on their abilities. Agents are encouraged to use "I Speak" visual cards in more than 65 languages to help identify native languages and provide them with interpreting services. While these measures are a good start, they fall short as they are classified as "recommendations" and not enforced. There is no concrete way to know for sure if ICE and DHS boarder patrol agents are following recommendations, but having interpreters at the southern boarder would solve, if not ease problems.

There is certainly much to be done in the way of making language more accessible starting with reform in policy. While systemic issues certainly need addressing, it is clear that there is no lack of opportunity for interpreting and translating work for bilingual individuals. Our online immigration interpreter training course at Language Connections is offered in a variety of popular languages such as SpanishPortugueseArabicRussianChineseHaitian Creole and Vietnamese as well as a reduced version for less common languages.

Language accessibility is a big problem and immigration interpreting can help solve issues for immigration populations in the United States.
Immigration interpreting can help alleviate language accessibility issues

Get the necessary online interpreter training in order to become a competent professional interpreter. Register now for one of our online interpreter training programs: Online Medical Interpreter Training, Online Legal Interpreter Training, Online Immigration Interpreter TrainingOnline Community & Business Interpreter Training, or familiarize yourself with different types of interpreting and start developing your interpreting skills in our Introduction to Interpreting training program.

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