As the Demand for Court Interpreters Climbs, State Budget Conflicts Grow as Well

Fernanda Santos, New York Times, June 15, 2014

Judge David Segura of Santa Fe County Magistrate Court called his first housing case of the day, a disagreement between Gabriela Herrera and her landlord over a rental payment. In Spanish, Ms. Herrera–born in California, raised in Mexico and a resident of this city for six years–recounted her side of the story, fixing her eyes on the judge, whose eyes, in turn, kept shifting to the interpreter translating her words into English in a booming baritone.

It was a typical interaction in the adobe courthouse here, where a rotating cast of interpreters bridges the language divide in housing disputes, traffic infractions, drunken driving hearings and a host of other matters. It is also such a costly enterprise that for five of the past six fiscal years, the courts in this state–where roughly one in three residents speaks a language other than English at home–have run out of money to pay not just the interpreters, but also jurors and expert witnesses, whose compensation comes from the same fund.

Last month, in what has become an annual practice, Arthur W. Pepin, director of the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts, pleaded with the state’s finance board for more money. He said that since he could not stop paying interpreters–they would not work if they were unpaid–he would have to start giving jurors an i.o.u. because the relevant fund was running out of cash.

Mr. Pepin got the extra money, but the problem, he knows, will persist. Even though the fund’s budget has increased by roughly 76 percent since the 2004 fiscal year–to $7.4 million from $4.2 million–demand for interpreters continues to grow faster than the budget’s confines.

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Many states increasingly look like New Mexico, with its diverse population, and they are grappling with the rising cost of providing interpreters for non-English speakers. In places like Ohio, Kansas and Illinois, where immigrants speaking many different languages have settled in recent years, the courts struggle within financial constraints to meet their obligations under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires them to provide interpreters in all civil and criminal proceedings. In Ohio, for example, the most recent survey of local courts showed that spending on interpreters had increased to $1.1 million in 2010 from $55,000 in 1998, fueled by profound demographic changes.

Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said states had “a civil rights obligation” to find the money to cover the growing costs of court interpreters. Pleading poverty, she said, “cannot insulate state courts systems from compliance.”

{snip}

The Justice Department, which has watched the problem grow, has cracked down. Ms. Samuels’s office has stepped up enforcement in recent years, forcing corrective actions in states like Rhode Island, Colorado and North Carolina.

{snip}

In New Mexico, court interpreters generally work in Spanish or Navajo, mostly at a rate of $47 an hour, excluding driving time and mileage, a significant expense in a state that is far bigger than New York, New Jersey and Connecticut combined, Mr. Pepin said.

About 36 percent of New Mexico’s 2.1 million residents over the age of 5 speak a language other than English at home, almost double the national rate. {snip}

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New Mexico’s Constitution is the only one in the country that says no United States citizen can be excluded from a jury pool, even if the person cannot read or understand English. {snip}

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In the courtroom here in Santa Fe–where roughly one in five cases requires translation–Judge Segura listened attentively as the interpreter, Leopoldo Dorantes, translated Ms. Herrera’s explanation that she had paid her rent with a money order and that she should not have to pay it again if the money order had been stolen from the landlord’s safe deposit box, as a representative acknowledged. As she stepped outside, she conceded, in Spanish, that she does speak some English, but that going to court was so intimidating, it was good to have the interpreter on her side.

“Because he was there,” Ms. Herrera said, “I wasn’t afraid.”

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  • Katherine McChesney

    So glad I no longer live in Santa Fe. It was beautiful but VERY backward.

    • Ditto south Texas. Except much of it is scrub brush and not so beautiful.

  • I wonder if some of these people who supposedly can’t speak English really can and are faking it in order to drag out the legal process to their advantage.

    • Jesse James

      I am about ready to stop speaking English myself. It only seems to result in greater taxation, social castigation and decreased educational and employment opportunities.

    • Pro_Whitey

      There was a recent case in Massachusetts of an Ecuadorean(?) illegal alien who claimed that he spoke and understood only a rare Indian dialect, and demanded an interpreter, and got it. However, somehow with his severely limited language skills he had managed to stay in the U.S., acquire a vehicle, acquire a lot of beer, and then run over and drag to death an American citizen. Fortunately he was convicted, but only of second degree murder. People telling him to stop, which might have saved the guy’s life, was apparently not enough because of course he could not understand them; they were speaking English.

  • IstvanIN

    $47.00 an hour???? That is almost 86,000 dollars a year.

    • Sick of it

      Sounds like a lucrative career, but one would have to live near the barrio.

  • Einsatzgrenadier

    Whatever future historian decides to write a history of the decline and fall of American civilization, he will be forced to conclude that the Hispanicization of the US was the primary reason behind its downfall.

    • The weakened moral fiber of the white population, taken in by porn, Hollywood, and Marxist academics, preceded the Hispanicization by decades. The Mexicans are more of a symptom rather than the root cause of the decline, which Mexicans will speed up.

  • There are many hidden costs to a Balkanized country. The need for interpreters is just one. Others, like stress, healthcare, lack of trust, white flight, etc. are more significant. Thus, through a thousand cuts of the sword, we are made poor and disorganized, which is what the globalists want.

  • Anglo

    “New Mexico’s Constitution is the only one in the country that says no
    United States citizen can be excluded from a jury pool, even if the
    person cannot read or understand English.”

    What kind of stupid law is that?

    • JackKrak

      How stupid is it to grant citizenship to people who don’t speak English?

      • Pro_Whitey

        I think the law on the books still makes English proficiency a prerequisite to naturalization, but it is enforced as much as other immigration laws. There should be no need, it should be illegal, for ballots to be in languages besides English, but the feds and courts routinely order other language ballots.