13 Nov Guest Post: Interpreter’s Liability
Today we welcome a post from guest author Catalina J. Natalini.
Catalina works as an interpreter and translator in legal, medical and school settings. She holds a Masters of Arts Degree in Linguistics from the University of Zurich and is a certified court interpreter in the language combination English-Spanish.
She has combined her experience as interpreter and translator with her knowledge of linguistics to engage in the teaching of interpretation and translation. She is an Associate Lecturer in the Master of Translation and Interpretation at La Salle University where she teaches medical translation and legal interpreting. Additionally, she has had the honor of being invited as guest speaker to present on interpretation at the National Association of Judicial Educators Conference in Philadelphia, PA and on interpreter ethics at the Third East Coast Regional Conference, Translator and Interpreter Development, in Philadelphia, PA. In September 2009, she participated as a speaker in the education program The Language of Justice organized by Widener University School of Law Legal Institute and the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission on Gender, Racial & Ethnic Fairness, and most recently has presented on interpreting topics at the 2015 International Medical Interpreters Association Conference.
In 2008, she was appointed as interpreter representative to the Delaware Court Interpreter Advisory Board where she contributed her expertise to policy discussions and decisions regarding language access issues until 2012. She is a member of the American Translator’s Association, the International Medical Interpreters Association, the National Council for Interpreters in Healthcare, and the Delaware Valley Translators Association. She was appointed as the Delaware State Chair for IMIA in July 2012.
A few months ago, a colleague contacted me regarding what she considered an ethical question. As she was preparing to serve as interpreter for the client of a nonprofit organization going through immigration procedures, she found among the documentation a form bearing the title Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, (http://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-485.pdf), a standard form required by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This form includes the following paragraph on the last page of the application under the section labeled “Interpreter’s Statement and Signature.”
“I further certify that I have read each and every question and instruction on this form, as well as the answer to each question, to this applicant in the above-mentioned language, and the applicant has understood each and every instruction and question on the form, as well as the answer to each question.”
My colleague did not feel comfortable certifying that the applicant understood (her emphasis) each and every instruction and question on the form. However, as she mentioned to me, this was a standard form provided by the USCIS. I told her she was right. In my daily job working in court and school settings, it has become very clear to me that as an interpreter, it is beyond my responsibility and scope of practice to guarantee or confirm whether any of the speakers has understood or not any information exchanged during the interpreting session.
My colleague told the attorney conducting this case that she was not going to sign the form and explained her professional position. The attorney was very unhappy about this and mentioned the fact that OTHER interpreters before her had signed the form without any problem. He then went on to complaining to the non-profit agency because my colleague was refusing “to cooperate with his case”. Needless is to say, my colleague’s services were no longer required for this case.
Coincidentally, a few months later I heard from another colleague in a similar situation. This time the question had to do with newly-edited Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record (http://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-693.pdf). The interpreter coordinator of a Wisconsin hospital voiced her concerns to my colleague regarding the wording of this form, which states on page 2 that the interpreter is to certify the following:
“I have read to this applicant every question and instruction in Part 1. of this Form I-693, as well as the answer to every question in Part 1., in the language provided in Part 1., Item Number 12.; and
I have read the Applicant’s Certification to the applicant in the same language provided in Part 1., Item Number 12.
The applicant has informed me that he or she understands every instruction and question in Part 1. of this Form I-693, as well as the answer to every question in Part 1., and the applicant verified the accuracy of every answer, and
The applicant also has informed me that he or she understands the Applicant’s Certification.“
My colleague posed the following question: “Doesn’t this go against our code of ethics?” She also had a question of practical nature: “How does the signature component get completed when the interpreting services are provided by telephone?”
I mentioned to her the case regarding Form I-485 with similar language. As in the case of my first colleague, she also felt uneasy about signing such a statement.
I have since consulted with other interpreters and the consensus so far is that interpreters cannot be held liable for the “understanding” of the applicant, but can only certify that he/she sight translated all the questions and answers in the presence of the provider.
This is not an issue of advocacy or cultural mediation; this is an issue of liability. In cases when the applicant is an English speaker, who is liable for the applicant’s understanding?
Furthermore it is important that agencies contracting interpreters have a better understanding of the interpreter’s liability as a professional and seek ways not to compromise the ethics and standards of practice of professional interpreters.
I think it is commendable that these two interpreters had the common sense to stop and think this over from the point of view of their professional scope of practice, and had the courage to question and even challenge such statements that compromise their liability and place them in a dangerous position. Have any of you run into a similar situation before? Do you have any ideas on how we could effect change? Obviously, the USCIS is not aware of the conflict the language of these forms poses to professional interpreters.
Catalina J. Natalini
State Certified Court Interpreter – Spanish
Adjunct Professor at La Salle University – Master of Interpretation and Translation
LinkedIn page: www.linkedin.com/pub/catalina-natalini/24/ab1/333
You may contact me directly at email@example.com