The language access program, officially titled as the Executive Order 13166 Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English proficiency, was created by President Clinton in August 2000. The program’s objective is to provide interpretation services to individuals whose first language is not English. It provides interpreters during any type of court proceedings (i.e., hearings, trials, and motions). The goal of the program is to ensure that the interpreters are skilled and knowledgeable in court interpretation. The program trains court personnel and judges to identify situations where interpreters are needed in addition to providing written translation of necessary documents.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits the Department of Justice to discriminate on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. State and federal government agencies must provide competent interpreters in all court proceedings. It is a violation of their civil rights if any person is denied access to interpretation services. However, even though the Department of Justice is in charge of supervising and ensuring that federal agencies comply with the language access program, there are a lot of issues. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, this program has presented a series of problems within the immigration court system. One of these issues is that immigration courts do not require interpreters to acquire certifications from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts or the Consortium for Language Access in the Courts, leading to unprofessionalism and mistakes that affect the lives of the people jeopardizing due process.
Individuals who require an interpreter because of their limited English proficiency are called LEP (limited English proficient) persons. About 85% of them rely on interpreters to communicate their case to the immigration judge. Due to the lack of competency of the interpreters, important information regarding the court proceedings is often miscommunicated, which leads to further miscommunication between the judge and the attorneys. Consequently, approximately 46% of the states, studied by the Brennan Center for Justice, deny interpreter access to individuals in civil cases and 80% of them charge LEP individuals for interpretation services either in criminal or civil cases, even though these services are funded by the Department of Justice. As a result, people often do not ask for an interpreter because they cannot afford to hire one.
Instead of showing improvement within the language access program, immigration courts have intensified these problems by ignoring the guidelines and providing inexperienced and uncertified interpreters. Ultimately, the lives of LEP persons and their families are on the line because their future is placed in the hands of incapable interpreters who are neither qualified nor have been properly trained. It would be interesting to see how this issue will be addressed in the coming months as more and more undocumented and arriving immigrants are being arraigned in courts all over the country.