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Immigration Courts Could Lose A Third Of Their Interpreters


Oct 7, 2015 / by Katharine Allen & Barry S. Olsen


From BuzzFeed News...


Article Excerpt: Interpreters across the country are refusing to sign on to a new contract to service U.S. immigration courts, citing what they call unacceptably low pay and poor working conditions.


“They’re keeping me from making a decent living for me and family,” said Carmelina Cadena, an immigration court interpreter in Florida who is fluent in a rare and sought-after Mayan language from Guatemala. “It’s ridiculous.”


Language interpreters are crucial to the basic functioning of the country’s immigration courts, where business is rarely conducted in English–less than 15% of immigration court cases were completed in English in fiscal year 2014


The conflict between the interpreters and the new contractor, SOS International, or SOSi, threatens the ability of the immigration courts to function, and the ability of individuals to challenge their potential deportation.


Link to full article HERE.


InterpretAmerica's Take: It is disheartening to see in the United States what could well end up as a repeat of the debacle that took place in the United Kingdom in 2012, when Applied Language Solutions (ALS, now owned by Capita) struggled to fulfill its contractual obligations to provide interpreting and translation services to a range of justice sector bodies throughout the UK. The main reason for the disruption then, as appears to be the case now in the United States, was a new government contractor winning a bid to provide language services based largely on price and then subsequently showing little or no regard for the very professionals it must rely upon to fulfill the contract by inviting them to do the same work for fees that are significantly less and under inferior work conditions.


The “ALS/Capita affair” in the UK led to an organized boycott effort by professional interpreters throughout the UK, disruption of the legal system, an eventual inquiry by the British Parliament and an investigation by the UK National Audit Office. In one highly publicized act a protest, one colleague even registered her pet rabbit as an interpreter with ALS. The rabbit subsequently received multiple emails and an invitation to be assessed further.


This time, the bid winner in the United States, SOS International (SOSi), appears to be running into similar problems, and the start date of the new contract has been pushed back from September to November. One can speculate about the justifications for this delay. But is it any wonder that professional interpreters are reluctant to sign on?


The great American humorist and author Mark Twain once said: "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." SOSi still has a chance to get this right and write its own history when it comes to providing professional language services in the US Immigration Courts. Let's hope they do, otherwise they'll end up with an Americanized version of what has become a now infamous British classic. 

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