Shortage of Court Interpreters Worsening in U.S.

Maité Jullian, USA Today, November 18, 2008

An existing shortage of certified court interpreters is worsening, court officials say, as law enforcement agencies step up actions against illegal immigrants.

Arrests leading to federal prosecutions and deportations reached record levels in fiscal year 2008, according to an October report by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Wanda Romberger, manager of court interpreting services at the National Center for State Courts, says that almost every state is being confronted with a lack of certified interpreters—who have to pass difficult exams—especially in languages other than Spanish.

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The association did not estimate how many more interpreters are needed, but according to a 2007 report by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, there was a 17% increase in the number of events requiring interpreters in 115 languages in federal courts from October 2006 to September 2007.

Framer says that several cases have been reversed because of poor interpretation. Parastoo Zahedi, a Virginia-based immigration lawyer says she “repeatedly had to reschedule cases because there was no interpreter.”

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However, he says, it can be difficult to find interpreters in some languages. Carelli also says that “finding interpreters for certain indigenous dialects from Central and South American countries has presented problems.”

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Certified interpreters have to pass exams, either through a state certification program, the Administrative Office or the Consortium for State Court Interpreter Certification, Framer says.

They are trained in the use of the specific court terms and protocols, Kern says. Courts also use qualified interpreters—non-credentialed but with experience—but there are not enough of them either, Framer says.

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The Administrative Office spends $11 million a year in interpreting services, Carelli says, including travel expenses.

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According to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, a federal certified or qualified court interpreter is paid $376 a day. Others are paid $181.

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