Less Interpreters In Immigration Court

By: Maridex Abraham

The last few years have brought about many changes to U.S. immigration policy and procedure, often to the detriment of those seeking refuge and relief in this country. While some changes have been well-documented and reported to the public, some policy shifts have taken effect without much warning. One change that has had very little media coverage is the use of instructional videos instead of interpreters in immigration courts.

In July 2019, certain immigration courts started to use informational videos that are intended to replace in-person interpreters at a person’s first court appearances. It is at these initial hearings that immigrants are advised of their rights in deportation proceedings. Right now, it is not clear when the Justice Department will require all immigration courts to implement this policy. Although the video policy is not in full effect, the consequences are very serious for immigrants who face deportation.

The policy will require immigration judges to play a video in English or the person’s native language. This video is approximately 20 minutes and reviews standard advisories. After the videos are shown, each immigrant will be called up for their hearing. Immigration judges can use an interpreter if one is available or call a telephonic interpreter service. Instead of making immigration court hearings more efficient, reducing the number of in-person interpreters will lead to increased delays. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the recent implementation of the informational video policy at the San Francisco Immigration Courts. The Chronicle reported on court delays caused by technological difficulties with the phone interpreter services.

In addition to delayed proceedings, the informational videos may also make it more difficult for immigrants to understand their rights in deportation proceedings. Many of these videos lack information that would be important for an immigrant to know before proceeding with their case. For example, the videos do not explain the definition of asylum and fail to advise on the one-year deadline to apply for asylum. The videos also warn against filing “frivolous” asylum applications without a full explanation of what that means. Asylum seekers without attorney representation may not fully understand what is required to file for asylum in court.

The instructional videos can also potentially mislead an immigrant into choosing an option that is not appropriate in their case. Specifically, these videos will include lengthy information on voluntary departure, which allows an immigrant to return to their home country without the consequences of a deportation order. Voluntary departure is typically used as an alternative option if the relief applications are not successful. The emphasis on voluntary departure may cause unrepresented immigrants to waive their rights without fully understanding what their options are. A person with a strong immigration case may agree to voluntary departure based on the videos because he or she is not aware of what relief is available.

Fortunately, many immigration judges in the U.S. are fighting back and letting the Justice Department know their concerns about the translation videos. While the Justice Department is reportedly open to feedback, there is no guarantee that the video policy will be improved to deliver information more clearly to immigrants. A knowledgeable immigration attorney can help immigrants understand their rights in deportation proceedings.

The Justice Department has not yet replaced interpreters with information videos in all immigration courts, but immigrants should think twice before attending their first court hearing without an attorney. The first appearance in immigration court is crucial in setting the stage for your case. An experienced immigration attorney understands the procedures in court and can help you present your case to the immigration judge.

More importantly, a good immigration lawyer will make sure your rights are protected in deportation proceedings. An immigration attorney will be able to determine if you are eligible for relief and can help you prepare the necessary applications that will allow you to remain in the U.S. legally. With new policies looming in immigration court, it is important to have counsel explain the process so that you do not accidentally give up your rights to pursue your case before an immigration judge.