Native asylum seekers struggle to get interpreters in the US | Indigenous Rights News

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Juarez City, Mexico – For Claudia, the journey from her small Guatemalan village in Guatemala to the border between the United States and Mexico was complicated by the fact that she could only speak her native Ixil, one of the 21 Mayan languages ​​of Guatemala.

On the way to what he hoped would be asylum in the United States, he communicated with the smugglers with gestures in his hands and the few words of Spanish he knew, to ask for water, food, money, and go to the bathroom.

Claudia and her four-year-old son Manuel arrived at the U.S. border in late December 2020. Their smugglers left them on a road along the Grand River and told him to cross the dry river and that she delivered herself. the U.S. Border Patrol. Claudia did not want her last name published for fear of reprisals.

He said Border Patrol agents took photos, stamped them both, and sent them back to the Mexican border city, Ciudad Juarez, the same day. If they gave her instructions, she did not understand them.

After eight months at the El Buen Samaritano shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Claudia has begun to speak some Spanish, but not enough to make sure she understands what’s going on with her immigration case or what she should do.

Claudia crossed the border between the United States and Mexico appears in El Paso, Texas, before being returned to Mexico [Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

“I understand more Spanish than I can speak. I try to tell everyone that I understand what they are telling me, but sometimes I find it difficult to communicate, to ask some questions “, he told Al Jazeera stopping Spanish.

Claudia and dozens like her who do not speak a conventional language, such as Spanish or Portuguese, may languish on the U.S.-Mexico border for months or years, because there are few or no interpreters who speak their indigenous language to help. them to navigate immigration and asylum systems.

A long wait

The shelter’s director, Juan Fierro, said Claudia will probably have to wait long before she can apply for asylum.

“We have contacted international aid organizations to try to find an Ixil interpreter because without one he will not be prosecuted” through the US system, Fierro told Al Jazeera.

Virtually all of the 500 asylum seekers housed at the Fierro shelter from January to June 2021 have left to file claims in the United States after waiting six to twelve months. Only those recently deported to Mexico and Claudia remain.

Fierro has welcomed more than 50 immigrants and asylum seekers who speak non-Spanish, most only speak Mayan languages ​​in the first half of 2021 alone, almost twice as many as in 2020.

Claudia has been in the Cuidad Juarez shelter since December 2020 with her son Manuel [Luis Chaparro/Al Jazeera]

“Most people get tired of waiting for an interpreter and leave to return to their hometown. Only a few wait long enough to get an interpreter and start their immigration process, ”said Fierro.

This year, the number of migrants and asylum seekers from small towns who spoke only their traditional languages ​​captured at the border almost doubled, leading to a long delay for the legal immigration system.

Amiena Khan, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said most cases involving indigenous language speakers are being rescheduled due to a lack of trained interpreters.

“The problem we are seeing is that there are too few indigenous interpreters in our community, especially for the Mayan languages, and cases where a judge can trust that he is getting a suitable interpreter are reprogrammed,” Khan told Al Jazeera.

According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, the U.S. immigration court system already has more than 1.3 million cases pending.

At least 40 different languages ​​are spoken by the nearly 30,000 migrants who had pending cases as of January 2021 according to data obtained by TRAC.

“While indigenous and other rare languages ​​constitute a small number of pending MPP cases, only 337 out of 29,423, the need for language access presents unique challenges for both migrants and immigration courts,” according to a report TRAC of April 26th.

It is difficult to calculate how many migrants with rare languages ​​could enter or be about to enter the immigration system.

Given the above figures, speakers of indigenous languages ​​could amount to less than 1 percent of the total, but that is, dozens or hundreds of people who could end up in a limit.

“These cases will not reach us until December 2023, that means we already have a backlog, and that exceeds the time it takes to find interpreters for the majority of the indigenous community in an immigration process,” Khan said. .

A Raramuri indigenous boy is part of the community waiting for his cases to be heard while waiting in Mexico on the outskirts of Ciudad Juárez. [Luis Chaparro/Al Jazeera]

Khan said there is “a level of frustration” among immigration judges, as this issue “is creating inefficiency and massive delays.”

Not only do U.S. immigration courts have to contend with indigenous language speakers waiting for cases to be resolved, but the U.S. judicial system is also finding them more and more.

Pablo, a 25-year-old Rarámuri from an indigenous tribe in northern Mexico, crossed the border into the United States carrying a sack of cannabis as payment for his smugglers.

He was arrested in January, along with a group of Mexican immigrants who also carried cannabis. Although everyone else was able to communicate in Spanish to relate to the court that would be convicted, Pablo’s case is still pending and he remains in jail.

“Many of the Raramuri who arrive at the border are not yet brought to court, mainly because they do not speak the language and it is difficult to find interpreters for them,” said Chris Carlin, a Texas public defender representing Pablo and another dozen of Raramuri.

Carlin said ten years ago, when Raramuri indigenous migrants were found on the border carrying sacks of cannabis, “the judge decided to let them return to Mexico with just a warning, because they didn’t understand what was going on,” Carlin said. . dit.

Dale Taylor, a former U.S. missionary and full-time Raramuri interpreter, said the number of recent cases like Pablo is “alarming” and that there are too many to attend to personally. Since January, he has been asked for help with 42 cases.

Taylor said he is the only Raramuri interpreter in English trained in the US. While he is aware of Pablo’s case, Taylor said there are 10 cases ahead.

Most indigenous language interpretation in U.S. courts is done over the phone, by for-profit companies such as Lionbridge and SOS International. But while this has alleviated some pending cases, the judges say the remote system makes it difficult to assess the applicant.

“Each claim is heard individually based on the facts. I have to do a credibility assessment for the individual in front of me, how can I do that if they don’t speak the language, ”Khan said.

Odilia Romero, an independent interpreter of the indigenous Zapotec language and co-founder of Comunidades Indigenas en Liderazgo (CIELO), said many of the interpreters who help U.S. courts do not have the capacity to represent migrants in official hearings.

“The few interpreters in American courts are not trained or trained to properly translate indigenous immigrants. They are local gardeners or workers who emigrated from the same communities, but that doesn’t mean they know how to translate properly for a U.S. immigration court, ”Romero said.

Even if asylum seekers like Claudia and Pablo end up in court, after a long wait for a translator, there is no guarantee that they will be able to clearly communicate their asylum case.

“This not only leaves indigenous immigrants at the end of immigration courts, but also violates a basic human right,” Romero said.

Claudia at the shelter said returning to Guatemala is not an option.

“I will wait, as long as I have to. I can’t go back to Guatemala, there’s a reason I left, otherwise I would have stayed there, “he said.





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