Washington / Miami, USA —
The return of the rule requiring applicants for so-called “affirmative asylum” in the United States to bring their own interpreter to Immigration interviews will not affect new arrivals or migrants at the border, experts said. in law.
“This is for anyone who is not in the process of removal, but is applying for asylum… it can be an issue of due process for people who need interpreters and they cannot pay. But the fear that it applies to people who have just arrived at the border is not the case in most cases,” he said in voice of america Lily Axelrod, US immigration attorney.
Contrary to popular belief, this requirement is not new. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is now requiring migrants to provide their own interpreter at sessions, a service it began offering temporarily during the COVID-19 pandemic to limit the number of people. in their rooms and reduce infections.
now, at the end of the declaration of the Public Health Emergency in May, USCIS re-established its pre-pandemic policies.
If the migrant does not speak English, there is no interpreter in the session “and does not show a reasonable reason” for not providing it, “we can consider it a failure to appear at your interview and we can dismiss your asylum application,” USCIS warned. in a statement.
Immigration Services did not respond to a request for comment from VOA to rebuild the pre-pandemic step.
An overloaded asylum system
However, this requirement only applies to those who are in the middle of so-called affirmative asylum, which applies to those who are not yet in the process of being deported from the country.
The US asylum system is divided into affirmative asylum and defensive asylum. In the case of the affirmative, these are people who arrived in the country with a visa or are not recognized by immigration, and will appear before USCIS to request asylum.
At the border, migrants caught by the authorities are placed in deportation proceedings that can be appealed through a defensive asylum application and a credible fear interview.
“In that case you have a court interpreter. “So, it’s only for people who came without any contact with immigration or who came legally with a visa or people who entered and had contact with immigration and for one reason or another, immigration decided without asking for deportation against them,” he added.
The lawyer explained that the US asylum system is “so full” that people are now being interviewed who applied three, seven and even eight years ago, and have been established in the country.
The project TRAC Syracuse University estimates that by the end of 2022, the number of people waiting for an affirmative asylum interview will be 185,057.
In a card sent in January 2023 by Republican Congressman Andy Barr to the director of USCIS, Ur Jaddou, he presented the data received by his office saying that until then, there are about 500,000 asylum applications to be processed in the United States.
The effect is not the same
Returning to regular USCIS processing brings advantages and disadvantages to the table for applicants, Axelrod explained.
“If a client has unlimited funds, we always prefer to bring our own translator because the translators provided by the government are contractors, some are exceptional, some are not,” he explained.
In cases where the interview is extended, a person is exposed to two or three interpreters, the lawyer added, “which interferes with the client’s comfort in sharing a traumatic story with many disconnected people.”
However, he said it is “good” to have the option of having a government-provided interpreter at no extra cost as is the case with immigration courts, which handle defensive asylum.
An additional challenge arises for migrants who do not speak Spanish, Axelrod said. “The native languages of Guatemala, for example, it is difficult or impossible to find a competent translator, sometimes it is someone you know personally who does not feel comfortable playing that role,” he said.
According to the rule, the translator must be over 18 years of age and cannot be a lawyer or legal representative of the applicant, or witness, government official of the country of origin or another applicant with a pending case.
“I think it could be an access to justice issue for people who can’t afford an interpreter themselves,” he said.
Immigration attorney Rosaly Chaviano agrees that this is an issue that has two sides: positive and negative. The latter relates to the “cost of payments” that asylum seekers sometimes have to pay out of their own pockets.
“The positive side that I always see in bringing our own translator is that we know that person will be objective (…) and that he will translate correctly. There are many times when cases can be will be affected by a misinterpretation,” he said.
The lawyer insisted that “it’s good to have some measure of control over who actually does that interpretation” and acknowledged that he advises his clients to use professional interpreters, rather than family members and acquaintances, to ensure that interpretations are correct. .and the cases are not affected for that reason.
Translators to the rescue
Navigating a complex legal system is already daunting for most migrants, trying to understand the processes in a language other than your native language can be overwhelming, in addition to the costs it can create for an immigrant to the US.
That’s why organizations like the Refugees Translation Project work closely with attorneys, law firms, and nonprofit organizations to offer professional document translation and translation services to refugees and asylum seekers arriving in the United States from countries like Afghanistan, Turkey, and Eritrea. and Turkey. to Latin American countries.
Its presence on the web and social networks also makes it easier for asylum seekers themselves to approach the organization directly, although they usually work with law firms and NGOs, he explained to VOA Damian Harris-Hernández, executive director of the Refugees Translation Project.
“Our services are free for people whose translation costs are not covered by another organization. So someone comes and has a private lawyer, for example, and they have to pay out of pocket for their translation or translation, we provide that service for free,” explained the Turkish translator, who in 2017 founded the project through crowdfunding.
The work of the Refugees Translation Project translators is far-reaching, Harris-Hernández said, because they serve clients from all over the country, but they attend in-person sessions, especially in the New York and New York areas. Jersey.
“We started with Turkish, shortly after we added Arabic and now it has grown to about 18 different languages. Since the beginning we have worked on about 550 cases (…) and each case can include from one up to five people,” he said.
Until this year alone, the project has provided its services in more than 40 pro bono cases, and another 80 in partnership with organizations, where they cover the fees of professionals. “We’ve seen an increase in translation requests from people who remain in the New York City shelter system,” Harris-Hernández added.
“We’ve also worked with other organizations this year that have done a lot of work translating informational guides to help asylum seekers and other immigrants access legal, health and other important resources, ” he said.