05 Apr Why Interpret at Immigration Court?
–Formally known as the Executive Office for Immigration Review, or EOIR
Why, indeed? Everyone knows: the work is challenging and intense. I thought that once I got state certified, which I achieved in August of last year, I’d shift from immigration work to what I perceived at the time to be the more exciting and prestigious work in state trial courts.
However, now that I’ve interpreted in both state court and in immigration court, I have come to appreciate the amazing opportunity that it is to be able to work regularly both in EOIR and in state courts of general jurisdiction. Let me count the ways…
Immigration court builds skills
In immigration court, interpreters work extraordinarily hard. Every day involves intense simultaneous and consecutive work. We interpret trials (individual merits hearings, in the parlance) almost every day, in which the respondent (the person facing removal) always testifies. That means that EOIR interpreters must have top-notch consecutive memory and notetaking skills and strong simultaneous skills as well. This is especially so in the case of oral decisions, which are issued by immigration judges at the end of hearings and interpreted by an interpreter working alone. These consist of twenty minutes to an hour of dense, legally complex content read fairly quickly from a boilerplate, after the interpreter is already tired from up to three hours of consecutive direct and cross examination.
However, one helpful thing about immigration court is the repetitiveness of much of the simultaneous work. Most judges use scripts for their master calendar hearings (like preliminary or status hearings in criminal court) and use standard boilerplates for their oral decisions. I take advantage of this in developing my own coping strategies. For example, I have found and translated the boilerplates the judges use for the most common types of hearings, and recorded myself reading my Spanish translations of the boilerplates. I then shadow these recordings at home. That way, because I have the main boilerplates almost memorized, the cognitive load of interpreting them is diminished, and I can maintain accuracy for longer.
By contrast, I interpret full trials much less often in state court than I do in immigration court. Also, unlike in immigration court, criminal defendants rarely testify in their own trials. In immigration court, because the respondent is the principal witness in his or her case, it is not unusual to consecutively interpret two or more hours of their testimony in a single afternoon.
Certainly, some days are quite challenging for me in state court. For example, I nearly fainted the time I interpreted a plea bargain where the district attorney, in establishing the factual basis for the plea, stated that the defendant had stolen a maxi-speed rotary hammer drill from Home Depot via some sort of complicated exchange receipt scheme! I also find that trials in state court involve much more varied simultaneous work that includes broader range of vocabulary and more colloquial speech than I usually employ in immigration court.
However, overall, I would say the demanding nature of EOIR work has required me to push my skills, particularly my consecutive skills, to a high level and to work continuously to improve them. This is one reason why I hope never to leave EOIR behind.
Immigration court is incredibly interesting
Just about every interpreter I know lives for stories. It’s why many of us are interpreters: we are fascinated with people and the lives they lead, sometimes very different from ours, sometimes surprisingly similar. Every day, people tell the court about their families, their homes, and the hardships (and yes, horrors) they have lived. It is touching and heartbreaking, and being their voice is a sacred trust I feel honored to hold. Every day in immigration court is an illustration of how much all people have in common. Across cultures and social classes, everyone wants peace, security, and hope for their children. It’s inspiring work.
Immigration court presents a surprisingly diverse linguistic landscape
From a linguistic standpoint, EOIR is a treasure trove. In the Arlington EOIR, we principally encounter Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans, whose variants of Spanish are very different from the variants with which I had previously come into contact in my travels and in other parts of the U.S. As a result, EOIR has expanded both my awareness of regional differences between Spanish variants as well as my understanding of Central American variants of Spanish. Because the respondents in EOIR are mainly talking about what happened in their countries, rather than about events in the U.S. (as is the case in state court), the EOIR interpreter encounters all kinds of interesting local usages. Sometimes it’s stressful, as the last thing an interpreter wants, especially a court interpreter, is to be unexpectedly confronted with a perplexing regionalism. However, it is an incomparable linguistic training ground.
In closing, I’d like to encourage qualified interpreters to give immigration court a chance, and I would advocate for the profession to reconsider the value of EOIR interpreting. I’d love to see more certified and experienced interpreters joining the ranks of EOIR interpreters, bringing additional visibility and strength to this highly specialized and significant field of court interpreting work. Not only do respondents seeking protection deserve the very best interpreting, but interpreters themselves stand to gain personally and professionally from the challenging and fascinating work they can find in immigration court.
Tamber Hilton is a Spanish court interpreter certified in Virginia and based in D.C. She started her interpreting career in Seattle in 2007, working in the medical field and in immigration court, and subsequently spent five years in Thailand managing interpreter services for the U.S. refugee resettlement program. She returned to interpreting full time upon moving to D.C. in 2017, where she is currently earning her J.D. at Georgetown University Law Center. She and another EOIR/state court colleague will be speaking at the upcoming NAJIT conference on interpreting in immigration court, so be sure to check out their presentation! You may reach Tamber at firstname.lastname@example.org, and stop by her website, Language Locus
35 thoughts on “Why Interpret at Immigration Court?”
I beg to differ. I think that until our Immigration Courts decide to adopt the standards and rates practiced throughout the industry almost universally, the interpreter should most definitely NOT do work for them.
I used to interpret in both setting for years and I do agree with everything you said in the article. Unfortunately, after 8 years, I had to stop working in Immigration Courts once the contract for interpreting services was transferred the new agency.
It is shameful to our profession to be expected to perform at such a high level when getting paid peanuts. I always considered myself a good interpreter, even prior to obtaining my certification 4 years ago but after that, I want to be treated, paid and respected as I do deserve, nothing less.
In order to keep our certification, we must invest a lot of our time and resources. I truly hope, one day, things start changing and Interpreters are finally seen as valuable and necessary professionals across the board.
I totally agree.I worked for immigration for 20 years and finally I had to quit since they changed agency. Although I had that many years of experience they wanted me to go through the entire process of testing and everything else they offered me a ridiculous fee compared to what I was getting paid before. I am pretty much done with that agency. Hopefully they use the State court system to keep there interpreters .
Do you have any tips on passing the Immigration Interpreting exam?
I completely agree with you. I do the same. I work as a n immigration court interpreter as well as in state courts, and federal courts.
Hi. Who would you contact to begin? What department?
It is also necessary for the DOJ to increase the rates and apply the universal standards for interpreters.
Tamber, what an interesting post! You have absolutely the right idea about nearly memorizing the boilerplate language. I have been a court interpreter almost exclusively and what has helped my interpreting the most is translating into Spanish the different statutes for crimes that come up commonly in court. No more stumbling over odd phrasing. I have also translated the most common jury instructions into Spanish so I can give a smooth simultaneous interpretation.. I have realized that even though my native language is English, I don’t truly understand the legalese until I have translated it into Spanish.
Tamber, this is a fantastic, detailed post on interpreting in immigration courts and how it differs from interpreting in other courtroom settings. I wish I could attend your NAJIT presentation!
I couldn’t agree more with you Tamber, immigration court was my best school and I miss it. But as Ruth mentioned, I had to move to state courts because of salary and benefits.
I fully agree with your post. I would also mention that, unlike in state or federal courts, interpreting in immigration courts presents a challenge due to ignorance of the court, trial attorneys or respondents’ attorneys. In no other court I encountered so much lack of
“general knowledge”. For example, questions asked : ” Is it true that you were forced to speak the Cyrillic language” (It is the Cyrillic alphabet!Duh!); “Why didn’t you go to your local bank to have the statement notarized?” question posed by the court to an European respondent. Poor judge did not know that in Europe, somebody becomes a Notary Public after four years of Law school. The court asking European respondents how were they able to work in another European country without applying for asylum. Did they ever hear about the European Union and what it implies? I know, it is not the interpreter’s job to educate them but it is highly frustrating.
Excellent article, replete with truths with which I totally agree. I worked with the EOIR in Miami Fl several years ago as a contract interpreter at the time when Lionbridge had the contract and I had to leave due to the rates structure they had in place, reason for which I tend to agree with the above posts from my colleagues.
However I must admit it was a great training period and it broadened my formation as an interpreter. I truly believe that working in the immigration courts should be strongly encouraged in the interpreters collective as an aggregate value to the State Certification specially today when immigration is so very controversial and sure to generate a world of opportunities for interpreters in the very near future.
Edgar E Chacon
State of Florida Certified Court Interpreter
Nicely written but I completely disagree that we should promote the abuse immigration interpreters receive a the hands of this new agency. It is highly time for EOIR to start respecting the code of ethics! One interpreter doing simultaneous and consecutive at 160 words per minute alone all day is unacceptable. Knowing damn well that after 30 minutes, the human brain stops processing information. We are putting everyone in danger here. The well being of all those involved is jeopardized. Let’s not forget the record recording all mistakes due to mental exhaustion! Also…for peanuts! I hold 2 Masters in my field, have 11 years of experience in Legal, Medical and military training interpreting, I have been deployed with the state department. I simply refuse to be treated in this insulting appalling manner! I had to stop all together one month ago because of all the reasons mentioned and am solely focusing on Federal court where I am treated with respect! On top of the horrendous and dangerous conditions, I had to fight for my lunch breaks daily! Why??? I once went 7 hours without a break…talk about fainting!! Yes I started shaking and seeing dots because my sugar levels were so low. I implored the judge 4 times on the record for a food break…he laughed! Unacceptable. I just stopped interpreting because I simply couldn’t. No one should ever endure such treatment. As far as the stories go, interesting is not a word I would use to describe them. Horrible, soul crushing and psychologically damaging is more accurate. I got so burned out, I changed. I noticed I started hating people so much, I was just angry all the time. Clearly I had to take an indefinite break for my own sake and mental/physical wellbeing.
So, all in all, the working conditions are in dire need for a drastic change to match those of other departments .
It’s interesting how Consecutive interpreting is harder for immigration interpreters, when I find simultaneous interpreting more difficult. It is a difficult task no matter what mode, but experience and good skills have a lot to do to be good at it.
Its a matter of practice, although I believe that not everyone is cut out to be a simultaneous interpreter. Its definitely a skill and you must have a extensive vocabulary in order to be an accomplished interpreter. If you like to read, read in all of the languages that you are fluent in, that’s going to enrich you language skills. Another thing, I also started to simultaneously translate the TV. I know it seems funny but I got a lot better after a while. It gave me a range of many different subjects to interpreter that normally you wouldn’t think you would need it in court and you’ll also to find out it helps your brain process the translation faster then must people. The majority of judges don’t like consecutive interpretation because its time consuming and as you probably know time is everything in court, since Judges have a schedule to follow. I hope this can help you.
It is a disgrace how Immigration Courts treat the interpreters,, low pay, and disrespectful treatment of us. Also the licensing of Court Interpreters is a disgrace, as it takes about a decade to learn the high-register language, but Freelance Interpreters do loose their license yearly as they do not get sufficient hours to meet the required hours. such a waste of good talent and hard work!
Agree completely with Ruth G. All of Tamber”s observations are true and real professional development benefits. But pay and work conditions in these courts will not improve until a majority of qualified colleagues refuse such unacceptable terms. Team interpreting is not a “frill” or “unecessary expense”. It is vital for completeness and accuracy, in hearings which profoundly affect the safety and quality of respondents’ lives.
I understand both points of view:
On the one hand, working in Immigration Court can be more interesting than working in Criminal Court.
Because the events testified about take place abroad (in the respondent’s home country) rather than in the U.S. and also because most of the trial consists of the respondent testifying about his or her experiences rather than having most of the trial consist of lawyers and other professionals talking about matters that relate to the defendant (as typically occurs in criminal court proceedings).
interpreting in Immigration Court gives one the opportunity to learn about what is going on in other parts of the world instead of just hearing detailed information about a particular alleged act, many of which can be rather mundane (such as drunk driving).
On the other hand, it is certainly true that the pay in Immigration Court tends to be lower (in the case of Spanish, perhaps not so in the case of languages of lesser diffusion) and that the working conditions are generally worse.
Now here is a question that you may find interesting:
Why is it that pay for interpreters in Immigration Court tends to be lower than in State Courts?
After all, Immigration Court is part of the federal government and the federal government, unlike the States, prints the money, so why is it that Immigration Court interpreting pays less?
Since it is funded by the federal government it should pay more, right?
The reason for the lower pay for interpreters in Immigration Court is primarily due to the fact that the federal government is a huge burocracy.
But aren’t state courts also huge burocracias?
Yes, but there is a fundamental difference:
State courts have the authority to directly contract interpreters:
Each court has a budget for it and every week (or every day) each one sends out email messages to all of the interpreters on its list that work in the languages it needs in order to get interpreters for future hearings.
If the state court doesn’t get sufficient responses from the email inquiry, then the interpreter coordinators pick up the phone and start calling interpreters, which may mean that they have to offer a premium rate to get their interpreting needs met.
That’s not the way it works in Immigration Court.
In the Immigration Court system individual courts (which are called “field offices” in federal government parlance) have no authority to contract directly with interpreters but instead a middleman, a large company, receives the exclusive contract to “provide” interpreter services for all immigration courts in the entire country.
The per person-hour cost of interpreting services for the Immigration courts is considerably HIGHER than that of the state courts (in terms of the cost to the taxpayers) but what the pay that Immigration court interpreters receive is less than what their state court counterparts receive!
Obviously, the company, which at present is SOSi International, makes off with the lion’s share.
One reason for this is the hierarchical nature of the federal government and the relationship between agencies’ “headquarters” and their “field offices”:
The system is such that all major decisions, and particularly budgetary ones, are made by the former and not by the latter:
The field offices can not so much as order paper clips without headquarter say-so and it must be done through headquarters and/or through exclusive procurement providers that the agency or its Department designates.
Has anyone proposed changing this system so that taxpayers get more bang for their buck?
I don’t know!
I agree with previous commenters. I also worked for years in EOIR and completely agree that it pushed me daily, challenged my skills and vocabulary, and was an amazing professional experience. HOWEVER once I got my certification, I immediately stopped working for them and instantly got jobs at much higher rates, more respect by schedulers, and agencies who respect professional norms. I miss the judges and other wonderful staff I worked with, the stories and the chance to participate in something so important. I DON’T miss working in something so important that is treated as something so unworthy of regulation and fair wages.
any tips on passing the exam?
I will be taking the exam tomorrow.
I have interpreted for the immigration courts both with Berlitz as well as the current company. With my languages (Arabic, Farsi, Dari), I have been able to travel and enjoy being in states I would not normally get a chance to see. The 160 words per minutes is tough and I think that a summary of the Judge’s decision should suffice for the respondent who does not understand the legal mumbo jumbo in the first place. Hopefully one day they will change that requirement. For me, as both a judiciary state, and immigration court interpreter, I find the work interesting and challenging, but the pay does need to increase. I believe that the immigration courts are doing the best they can given the shortage of judges and staff. My experience with the judges has been very professional and pleasant; and I only have good things to say about the judges and the people I have worked with (especially at the Arlington court). Yet, the pay is low and needs to be increased. Also the cost of Uber/Lyft needs to be added on if the court is too far from the airport. We should not be expected to drive a rental car for an hour to get to a location – especially for a New Yorker like me who is not used to driving! 🙂 The other issue I encounter (at least in my specific languages as a freelance interpreter) is that the non-detained cases are frequently being cancelled a few days prior to the hearing (due to shortage of resources, and the necessity to do the detained cases first). This means not getting paid anything for the commitment to be there at a specific time/date, while turning down other cases such as legal depositions which pay double. And yes, the fatigue factor takes a toll, and I try to see it as a challenging factor rather than a hindering one. Then again as a freelance interpreter, I have the luxury of turning down cases when I am booked elsewhere, so I’m good with this arrangement. I just find the travel and the professionalism, and the wonderful people I have met at immigration courts worth the challenge! 🙂
Unfortunately, I believe this piece is missing a very important point: THe agency running the EOIR service: SOSi. I do not encourage my fellow interpreters to give immigration court a chance because of the working and payment conditions imposed by this agency.
I personally do not think that qualified interpreters are seeing immigration court as a second-class interpreter work. On the contrary, we see it such as solemn field, that it hurts to know that industry standards are disrespected so abruptly.
Please do not get me wrong: I am an immigrant, attorney and Interpreter AND I miss my interpreting days at Immigration work terribly! – at the point that I find myself accompanying attorneys at their hearings as a Pro bono interpreter almost twice per month. Immigration is my passion, but I refuse to accept the terms and conditions imposed by an abusive agency.
I understand we all have financial obligations and find hard to reject work coming from an specific agency –Believe I’d been there: I printed out the contract and I was ready to sign it. But I resisted the urge to say yes to conditions that won’t benefit our profession in the long-run.
I think that we all must stand with immigration court in solidarity fully understanding what standing in solidarity truly entails. For the sake of our profession and for the solemn work interpreters perform at immigration work, I would like to see all my fellow interpreters (certified, qualified, experienced) rejecting abusive contracts, practices, terms and conditions. If we all do it, perhaps this significant field of court interpreting work would begin to enjoy the visibility, strength and RESPECT it deserves.
ps. I respect and admire my fellow interpreters working at Immigration Court.
Wow, I didn’t realize it was that messed up. I’ve kind of avoided it because I hate the whole human tragedy. I knew there were pay scale issues with them, but really didn’t know it was this bad. That having been said, can I try and get a laugh in this post? Good grief! The whole immigration mess is just out of control. They finally tried to get Superman to come and fix it, because that’s what’s going to take, but…
ps. ¿Cómo estás Edgar? Que nice verte aquí. It’s a great blog.
Thank you to everyone who has commented. I want to make it clear to my colleagues that I recognize and honor your concerns, especially regarding aspects of immigration court interpreting practice and conditions that affect interpretation quality. I have done an incredible amount of soul searching about this, because I am aware of this conversation which has been ongoing for some years. For me personally, the right choice for a number of reasons, including my passion for this kind of interpreting work, is to keep doing it and do it proudly, professionally, and to the absolute best of my ability. I am torn though because while I deeply understand these concerns, I also feel that if the only message that the wider court interpreting community sends to immigration court interpreters is one of exclusion, that we shouldn’t do this work because the conditions do not align with best practices, we won’t be able to talk about EOIR work productively as the enormous sub-field of court interpreting that it is. I want to be able to say, without fear: Yes, there are things that are not ideal, and we need voices to call attention to that. But maybe there are things we can do as individual interpreters to mitigate conditions that affect our work, short of turning our backs on EOIR, and I hope that at least some of the best among us might be willing to join the conversation.
Therefore, my approach is, because somebody will always do the work regardless, and they might as well do it well, is this: let’s talk TOGETHER about what an interpreter ought to do to be able to still interpret well under challenging conditions (whether in EOIR or anywhere, actually). Specifically, I am referring to the development of strategies interpreters can employ to do the best they can with what they’ve got. One such strategy, memorizing the boilerplates and learning the law by taking courses on immigration law and studying materials intended for practitioners (like Understanding Immigration Law and Practice, by Aspen College Series), dramatically reduces the multipolar cognitive load of simultaneous interpreting. It REALLY HELPS, I swear. Immigration court content is actually pretty repetitive compared to what you get in courts of general jurisdiction. If you are aware of that, you can take advantage of it to do excellent work. But successful immigration court interpreters need to be able to teach their colleagues this and other proactive strategies without fearing that they are just defending poor practices, rather than teaching how to cope with them.
In closing, I want to reiterate that I think there are great reasons to work in EOIR. It can be rewarding despite the challenges, and I want to support my fellow EOIR interpreters by sharing what’s helped me do my best. I also respect and support my colleagues who differ with me in that opinion for reasons such as those mentioned above. Please feel free to reach out to me directly too! I’m so open to talking to you all.
You really said everything there. I have been state certified since 2013 and I also work for immigration court, started with the new agency. My biggest problem with interpreting in immigration court is the decision. I don’t know what or who the judges think we are but some of them go through that paper(that they wrote and are reading from) at lightning speed, citing laws and referencing cases. It is a lot of work, at the end of a three-hour hearing to have to do all that and for so little pay… I feel like interpreters are not valued as much as they should be but I love my work.
Excellent insight, Tamber! You seem to have poked a hornet’s nest here but I get that your piece is about LEARNING, about being a better interpreter every day, not about pay or working conditions. I hope those raising red flags about those other issues don’t miss your point.
I commend you for your well-written and passionate article about Immigration Court interpreting. As interpreters, we love challenging work and its reward. We interpret for people of many countries who don’t have a voice. We are their voices.
I, too, worked in immigration court in my early days of interpreting. I enjoyed the challenge and I was interpreting faithfully to the best of my ability. Some judges were extremely grateful for the work we performed, while others expected me to be their clerk, to the point of asking me to hand the Court the files stacked next to her and call out the case name.
I gave up immigration court and went to work in state courts because I got a lot more respect for the work I performed in criminal courts. Then I moved to federal court where the my worked is appreciated and paid accordingly. I also work in the private sector, which offers me a variety of language challenges that I welcomed with opened arms. Boiler plate interpreting is not that challenging. Yes, you become very good at it, but we need to challenge ourselves with new and difficult terminology in order to excel as interpreters.
Again, you worked hard, unfortunately, many immigration Interpreters leave much to be desired. How do I know? I have been hired as a check interpreter for asylum cases. I work with pro-bono attorneys, too. I sit in the courtroom and hear the interpretation given. One out the four I’ve listened to was excellent. The others were mediocre, who claimed to be very experienced, even a supervisor, according to the court, messed up important parts of the testimony offered by witnesses. The court stood by him when challenged by the attorney that hired me. I can only be bystander and pass notes. One just mumbled and interpreted incoherent phrases pretending to appear knowledgable. He needed interpreting 101, specially simultaneous. Yes, the English sound plausible, but not correct. I know court certified Spanish interpreters work in immigration court as well, so I cannot judge all of them. From my vantage point, more training and certification needs to be implemented.
Remember, immigration interpreters do not need certification. There is a mandatory class and a very simple test to be approved to interpret in court. They learn on the job! I know it’s hard work, they work for very long hours and no help whatsoever. They are polite and professional. As many have mentioned here, the issue is the pay. I used to get federal rates back in the day (I am a federally certified Spanish interpreter now). It’s sad, but immigration court is simply a great training ground for new interpreters to hone their skills.
It’s not the interpreters’ fault, it’s the contractor who sees all interpreters as equal, I beg to differ, interpreters should be judged on performance and accreditation and their pay should commensurate with experience. I know they work very hard, they do what the can. You went to law school and now practice law. Interpreters who want to remain good interpreters move on, too.
So right now the main beef about immigration court language interpretation work is low pay. I can totally understand that. Also, considering how overwhelmed the immigration court system is right now, I can see how nothing will improve until the whole system gets off freaking DEFCON 1 status. And, if you think you’re working for peanuts now…
Guys, I know this is a language blog. I know. that. I tend to try and have a sense of humor and quip (sometimes overly so) about our thing. I’m passionate about language. It tickles my fancy and makes me all giddy. Right now I’m totally bummed out. I don’t want to bring you down with me but, if you would humor me this once, I promise I’ll make an honest attempt to be succinct and somewhat instrumental. The situation at the border is truly untenable. The flooding of illegal immigrants across the border brings down eveyone’s wages. Our profession is very cerebral, and among our esteemed intellectual colleagues we have no shortage of super-liberals. It just comes with the territory, I guess. And that’s quite all right. Hey, I am selectively liberal on a couple of issues. For instance, I don’t like the neocon proclivity to want to blow up another nation, invade it or otherwise warmonger as a solution to problems that affect our national wellbeing or, much less, for the sake of pure political expediency. On the other hand, I’d love to see Maduro and Cabello eat some high-tech weaponized gringo drone soup tonight. It’s all relative. So, for all the bleeding hearts out there that lean towards the neo-socialist political persuasion and that oppose border control, and seek to undermine the border control policies being implemented as we speak by our current president, and want to abolish ICE, create more and more “sanctuary cities,” and parrot all of that abject insane rhetoric, please click on the link below, read the article carefully, and then, as your homework, try to find the appropriate interpretation into your native language of the idiomatic expression “hoisted by your own petard.” I don’t pretend to know what the solution to this debacle is, and while the argument could be made that to our profession, more migrants translate – pun intended – into more job security, this systematic illegal migrant invasion through the border presents a real clear and present danger to our nation’s security and prosperity. All wages are brought down, across the board, by illegal immigration. That’s a fact. It means the destruction of the middle class and small businesses. So next time you see Jorge Ramos talking malarky in his Univision newscast, or anyone at CNN or MSNBC, and feel that if you don’t express your solidarity to the poor immigrants you will be cursed by the gods of progressivism for your inhumanity, look at the current state of affairs at the border with your own eyes, research how the word “progressive” is Orwellian Newspeak for Marxism, pray for wisdom, remember to do like Jesus said, and always cast your fishing net and your vote on the right side of the boat, so to speak. Sorry for going off subject like this and even proselytizing there a bit. We are in an emergency and if this situation isn’t averted NOW… IT’S GAME OVER, MAN! GAME OVER! No more peanuts.
“……..This is especially so in the case of oral decisions, which are issued by immigration judges at the end of hearings and interpreted by an interpreter working alone. These consist of twenty minutes to an hour of dense, legally complex content read fairly quickly from a boilerplate, after the interpreter is already tired from up to three hours of consecutive direct and cross-examination………. ”
Tamber, are you serious? Intense Simultaneous after two or three hours of consecutive? You must be proud of yourself and your daily learning experience, pushing yourself to the limit at the expense of the poor defendant, who no one cares about, obviously, including the interpreter, Those poor people are NOT having a competent, full, complete, and to the letter interpretation because. obviously, the interpreter is too tired to do a decent job.
No interpreter should accept that kind of conditions, but not because of you, the interpreter who want to push herself and practice hard, but because the defendant is not having his day in court. I will never work under those conditions for respect to the defendants, and respect to myself as a responsible interpreter. Why don’t you record yourself next time to see what kind of an interpretation you are doing? You should care if you really want to be a good interpreter. The fact that those poor people are not going to complain about your interpretation should not prevent you from doing the right thing and stop accepting those working conditions.
While, in general, I agree with your statement, the bare fact is that the oral decision by the immigration judge is so full of legaleze that a US born, raised and educated (undergrad) person would not understand it. In his decision, the judge cites a lot of statutes (no relevance to the respondent), then he describes the respondent (age, origin, education etc), followed by a summary of the respondent’s answers during the hearing (very important for the respondent- it is imperative that the interpreter conveys everything), followed by another litany of statutes (no relevant to the respondent) and then, the decision.
Therefore, the respondents (90% of them with a very limited level of education) have their fair day in court!
Forgive me for coming late to this riveting exchange. Like many of you, I started my interpreting career in Immigration Court in the mid 80’s first as a Berlitz contractor and then, briefly, as a staff interpreter. First and foremost, I want to thank Tamber Hilton for her insightful article. I urge everyone to continue this critical exchange. Work conditions in Immigration Court, as in any other venue, are critical to the accuracy of interpreting. The accuracy of interpreting has a direct impact on the lives and liberty of responders. And while remuneration and access to this extraordinary practice are critical to our livelihoods, at the end of the day it is the life and liberty of the user of our services that hangs in the balance. Because the responsibility of the oath is the interpreter’s and the interpreter’s alone, we must make sure that “to the best of our ability” includes making sure that work conditions are conducive to fulfilling the letter and the spirit of the oath.
I work as a Staff Interpreter for the EOIR and I must say that I do enjoy the challenge and hard work that our esteemed colleague Tamber wrote about. I’ve had the honor of having worked with Tamber in a criminal trial at the DC Superior Court.. I also have the additional honor of working along side the esteemed colleagues that form our team of EOIR staff interpreters. We have been working hard at trying to educate our judges on proper use of interpreters as well as protocols and our code of ethics. Not all have come on board, and I get the feeling (and this is just me) that some don’t care or just do not appreciate all that it takes to do what we do; and they’re sitting right there next to us watching. Prior to coming on board with the EOIR, I served as a staff interpreter for the the State of Virginia (Commonwealth) for 7 years, and even there judges had to be educated on who we are and what we do. It’s just that it was easier to get criminal court judges on board with all that our job entails. The respect level was there thou, we had the backing of policies that went to the judges from the Supreme Court. When ever they saw the 30 minutes go by on one interpreter (when working in teams) they took the initiative and stopped for the changing of the guard. It was refreshing. It wasn’t just that, we were seen as those to go to for consultation on interpreting related matters; it felt great. Back to EOIR. I’m not going to bash, my thought is: if you don’t like where you work, there’s the door. I enjoy working here. The true challenge is not so much the interpreting, that’s what we do. The challenge is that those that work around us, the administration, the higher administration, does not really know what to make of us, they’ve called us, and this just recently, “administration professionals”. This speaks to them (not just the judges) not getting it, and us having to look for ways to educate, inform, whatever you want to call it., so they could get it. One Immigration Judge once told me to stop whining after I commented on needing a break due to fatigue (she was jesting, but there’s a little truth in jest). Bottom line is: EOIR judges, and personnel for that matter, are not getting the necessary training on working efficiently with interpreters when they come on board. This creates a true and legitimate problem. One that runs deep, depending on the judge, and one that is difficult to uproot. In closing, I also extend the invitation to those professional colleagues, true professional colleagues, to expand into our EOIR family of staff and contract interpreters, negotiate your way in, and join us on our quest in raising the level of respect and compensation from those that don’t truly understand how valuable a contribution we make.