Thursday, January 27, 2011

What You and Your Interpreter Need to Know - 6 Suggestions for a Smoother Immigration Interview

Interpreters play an important role in our immigration system.  Unlike the Immigration Court where a professional interpreter is supplied by the Court, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) does not provide an interpreter for immigration interviews such as for an adjustment of status or naturalization interview.  An applicant before USCIS, who needs interpretation, needs to supply his or her own. 

As I came to find out some time ago when talking with a professional interpreter, there's actually a difference between a "translator" and an "interpreter".  Here's the difference: an interpreter is a person who interprets orally from one language to another, whereas a translator translates written material from one language to another. 

Although a professional interpreter is always recommended, financial considerations many times trump this recommendation.  Most clients who need an interpreter for an interview before USCIS bring a friend or neighbor.  This is not always a good thing.  When considering which friend or neighbor to ask, look for:

  • A person who is not a family member. Family members have a vested interested in your success (at least one would hope). They're not really the most impartial people we can find. Officers know that, and it may affect your credibility. 
  • A person you can trust.  You want someone that can keep your personal information in confidence. Interviews can expose very personal and potentially embarrassing information that are best kept "in-house". 
  • A person that will be on time and has all day to spare.  Just like interviews can start right on time, interviews can take much longer than anticipated.  You want to bring a person that can be at the USCIS district office on time and can afford to stay all day.  If you're called in for your interview at 2 p.m. and your interpreter needs to pick up her children by 2:30 p.m., I guarantee you she will prefer to pick up her children.  I don't blame her.
  • A person that can speak better English than you. An applicant wants to make sure that the person they bring has a good command of both English and their native language. 
  • A person who is in the United States lawfully and has no criminal record.   This should go without saying, but, bringing an interpreter to your interview who is not in the country lawfully or has pending matters before the same office, is not really a good idea. You want to bring an interpreter who is a U.S. citizen who has no outstanding criminal matters because it might affect not only his credibility, but yours. If not a U.S. citizen, bring a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR).  Every state has a case information system.  For example, Virginia has a Case Status and Information page where one can look up a person's record.  Give it a shot and see what you find. 
  • A person who is not a "notario" or immigration consultant.  Use one at your own risk.  The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) created a new consumer website providing information and resources to immigrants to avoid being defrauded by a notario, and where to get help if they are harmed. 
Below are some suggestions for the interpreters helping out a friend or neighbor.  I understand that interpreters might have a handful of suggestions for us attorneys.  If you have suggestions, please contact me and we might have you as a guest on our blog.
  • Plan ahead.  Traffic jams, getting lost, and delays at the security counter are common. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the USCIS office and plan to stay there for at least 2-3 hours. You might end up being there for 30 minutes but things could get delayed.  Also, bring your driver's license or ID with you. The interviewing officer will make a copy of the ID and keep it in the file
  • Legal advice is best left to the attorney.  Your experiences or the experiences of others may or may not apply to the case at hand.   Avoid suggesting an answer to a particular question or coaching the person in matters that you may not be qualified in.
  • Ask for a copy of the forms submitted (or at least blank ones) to review them before the interview.  Some of the questions can be long, complicated, and right out confusing.  Reviewing the questions beforehand will give you a pretty good idea what the officer will be asking. 
  • Begin interpreting as soon as the officer begins speaking.  Don't wait for the adjudicating officer to give you a green light. Begin interpreting as soon as the officer speaks. If there's something you don't understand, kindly ask the officer to repeat himself.     
  • At the interview, avoid having side conversations. The officer might think you're coaching him or her or giving them "the answer".   
  • Remember you're under oath.  Interpret faithfully what is being said.
Most interviews don't take more than 30 minutes - so relax.  If you're helping out a friend or a neighbor, you're doing a good thing.  Yours is an important responsibility that you have to take seriously if the interview will go smoothly.  Keep these suggestions in mind and you'll do fine.