Detrimental Consequences of Unqualified Interpreters in USCIS Interviews

Once an alien submits a petition for immigration benefits, such as asylum, the process requires that they attend an interview with an asylum officer at the office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Most aliens don’t speak English. Such interview is conducted in English as it is on the record. For this reason, an interpreter is required to assist with the communication between the petitioner and the officer. I think we all agree that this communication is pretty significant and a crucial factor that will influence the final outcome.

Through Lingua Duo, I have been assigning interpreters for such interviews and have been lucky enough to help some wonderful law firms. I will not expand on what my hiring process is, as this is not what this blog is about, but I will tell you some of the horrific things that I know have happened during some interviews when petitioners decided to bring an unqualified person to interpret for them, instead of following the attorney’s recommendation of hiring a professional interpreter. Let me clarify further: none of what you are about to read happened with any interpreter hired through my company. I have heard about this from different attorneys after their clients had a bad experience.

The petitioner is responsible for bringing an interpreter to this type of interview as the government does not provide one (see USCIS website, requirement 5). The lack of knowledge, and sometimes funds, creates a misunderstanding in thinking that a friend, niece, great-uncle of a cousin, mother-in-law’s best friend’s sister can help interpret because, hey, they are bilingual! What else do you need, right? wrong!

These unqualified bilinguals are sometimes asked to leave the interview mid-way as the officer realizes that they are not interpreting accurately. In case you didn’t know, there is someone listening in to ensure the interpretation is accurate: “Although we do not provide interpreters for the interview, we use contract interpreters to monitor asylum interviews at local asylum offices and other locations by telephone. In general, the role of the contract interpreter is limited to monitoring your interpreter’s interpretation. Contract interpreters may be expected to occasionally interject if your interpreter fails to provide adequate, accurate, and neutral interpretation”.

Let’s paint the scenario further: you are presenting your case so that you can have a future in this country, your life, and sometimes your family’s, depends on it at this point, and the interpreter is not communicating what you are saying correctly. Keep this in mind: everything that comes out of the interpreter’s mouth is recorded. Not what you are saying, but what the interpreter is saying. Are you with me? this is crucial!  Anything you say (anything the interpreter says) can and will be used against you. Sounds familiar?

On other cases, the interpreter knows the petitioner (a friend or family member), and realizes that the petitioner said something wrong or got the date wrong, or maybe contradicted herself. So, logically, the friend tries to help her out and adjusts the answer. I cannot even begin to tell you how wrong this is. The consequences are that, without lying, the petitioner can be determined to be not credible. How can you proof you said or did not say something when all the officer understands is what the interpreter is saying? Not a good scenario. Once credibility is lost…the case is pretty much lost.

An ideal interpreter is court certified, as he or she would be used to working with examinations and witnesses, has learned consecutive interpreting techniques, has experience in legal settings, etc. In addition to this, the interpreter must have knowledge of immigration terminology, which is crucial. If the petitioner doesn’t personally know the interpreter, it will work very much in his or her favor as the interpreter will be impartial, will remain calm and professional if things get intense and emotional and will ensure an accurate rendition of your story.

If you are an attorney that worked very hard on your client’s case, as most I know, and your client needs to hire an interpreter, please make sure they understand that this is as important as all the other steps that have been taken for their case.

We are here to help! Your words are truly our passion.

What other experiences have you, or your client, had during such interviews regarding the interpreter?