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.