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End of pandemic practice of providing interpreters to asylum seekers sparks confusion and anger

Nature

Asylum seekers face new hurdle entering US


Asylum seekers face new hurdle entering US

02:37

MIAMI — Critics call the end of a pandemic-era practice for provide interpreters for those seeking asylum, it puts lives at risk.

The change in immigration policy has forced some asylum seekers to find and retain their own interpreters to obtain status.

“It’s very difficult,” said Irma, originally from Peru and who fled the country with her 15-year-old son seven months ago. They were carrying two suitcases which were stolen while crossing the American border.

Asylum seekers who are not subject to a deportation hearing may request positive asylum status. People facing removal hearings can apply for defensive asylum.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security suspended the requirement for asylum seekers to bring their own interpreter to interviews with immigration authorities. DHS has begun providing professional interpreters for virtual interviews to limit potential exposure to the virus during face-to-face meetings.

This month, funding for this service ended.

As expected when DHS began providing interpreters, officials ordered the department to return to original regulations requiring applicants to bring their own interpreters to interviews.

“What we have learned during the COVID period is that there is really no need for DHS to require people to bring their own interpreter as the existing rule requires,” said Luz Lopez, an attorney Principal of the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Everything is fine. The government can function well by providing the interpretation services itself.”

Lopez said fairness is at stake.

She said Executive Order 13166 requires the federal government to comply with language access regulations similar to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“In order to have a fair asylum process, you need to make sure an interpreter is qualified and can interpret accurately and effectively,” she said. “The only way to guarantee that is to use people who are professional interpreters. We do that when we have criminal proceedings in state or federal court, because we know the importance of having interpretation and accurate translation of documents. So when we are talking about asylum seekers during an asylum interview, how important would it be to have a qualified interpreter? This can mean the difference between life or death of that person.

Miami-based immigration attorney Willie Allen said current regulations leave people vulnerable. He believes people working alone in the process could be scammed.

“You’re completely dependent on the performer,” Allen said. “A bad interpreter, someone who is not certified or has no experience as an interpreter, (me) cares about how you can tell your story and how it is presented. It is very important to be able to tell your story correctly with correct language. The difference between winning and losing is in the translation.

In Creole, positive asylum seeker Romel, who also did not provide his full name, said he feared interpreters would give officers incorrect information. He experienced this when arriving at the port from Haiti.

“They asked him if he was feeling incredible fear,” said Itiah Daho Fon, Romel’s immigration document preparer, while outside the DHS asylum office in Miami on Thursday. “He doesn’t remember them asking him that at all.”

The response from a translator he found at the port to immigration authorities pushed his application into the defensive asylum seeker portal, delaying his quest for positive asylum.

“It’s not a word-for-word translation,” Daho Fon said. “You really also have to have a certain level of legality to understand the legal terms to use.”

Allen and Lopez said problems with interpretation led to families being separated and worse.

Irma said thieves took everything from her family in Peru. They stole her front door, kidnapped her son and when she and the teenager were reunited, the attackers attacked them and threatened to kill them.

Both fled shortly after.

However, unemployed, undocumented, and so far without a lawyer to help her, she is looking for someone to help her translate her story in a way that she can gain asylum and protect her son from danger.

Nature
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