There’s a Shortage of Court Interpreters Who Speak Indigenous Languages:

Illinois immigration courts are falling short at providing professional court interpreters who speak an indigenous Mayan language called Q’anjob’al. The language is spoken by close to 550 people in the Champaign-Urbana area. The National Immigrant Justice Center, reported an increase in Q’anjob’al speaking immigrants over the past eight months. In 2016, Q’anjob’al was the 17th most popular language in immigration courts, Mam ranked 9th and Quiche ranked 11th, both are other indigenous Mayan languages mainly spoken in Guatemala. Ashley Huebner, an attorney at the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago stated that the lack of interpreters impedes attorneys’ “ability to fully represent these individuals and for these individuals to have access to protection.” She also stated, “When we don’t have a decent interpreter who can communicate with them, you have to rely on a family member or someone in the community and you’re asking these questions about prior gender violence or family violence, you’re not necessarily going to get the correct information or the full picture.”

There’s a fast growing population of newly arriving immigrants from Latin America who speak indigenous languages, migrating to the United States. This is a growing concern because language barriers are presenting significant challenges for the non-English speaking individuals involved in immigration court hearings. The shortage of interpreters is causing a slew of issues and often times judges delay hearings and asylum seekers are deported despite having a strong case, all because a qualified interpreter could not be found within the allotted time. Hillary Richardson, a staff attorney at the National Immigrant Justice Center, said she once found a DJ in Guatemala to interpret for a client over Skype. Conditions like these allow plenty of room for misinterpretation, which could possibly have devastating, life changing outcomes for indigenous people represented in immigration court. Its best to provide a professional court interpreter when dealing with limited English proficient (LEP) individuals, to ensure all information is clear and concise.

Providing Language Access to Indigenous Immigrants:

A good interpreter is key in making sure all parties involved are on the same page. They have the knowledge, skill and experience required to ensure the conversion from source language to target language is direct and understandable. Court interpreters help judges, attorneys and court workers effectively communicate with indigenous people. The interpretation has to be impeccable, people’s lives are on the line, many immigrants flee their countries in search of safety and decent living conditions. The issue is finding qualified indigenous language speaking interpreters. In 2015, the entire state of California, which is said to have one of the larger indigenous populations, had one registered Mixtec interpreter, one Zapotec interpreter, and no Triqui or Quiche interpreters. When there’s a lack of local court interpreters available who speak the language needed, there are other approaches to take that will provide a solution to the dilemma.

Remote Interpreting for Indigenous Languages:

Remote language services such as over the phone interpretation or video remote interpretation (VRI), allow you access to interpreters located all over the world. Finding an interpreter who speaks the language you need, no matter how obscure, never has to be an issue again. Both over the phone interpretation and VRI services can be pre-scheduled or used on-demand, connecting you to qualified interpreters with very little wait time. Over the phone interpretation should be used during simpler interactions, perhaps collecting information or when guidance is needed to fill out documents. When interpretation is needed during actual hearings, it’s nice to have the visual aspect that VRI provides. VRI allows the interpreter to see and be seen by all parties involved through the use of a webcam and an online platform. Keeping the visual aspect of the interpretation intact, allows the interpreter to read body language and facial expressions which aid in conveying the complete essence of what a person is saying.

Providing language services for immigrants speaking indigenous languages may pose as a challenge, however remote interpretation services can help. Form a relationship with a language service company and familiarize yourself with how to access language services in order to better provide aid to people in search of a better life in this great country.

Niki’s Int’l Ltd. is a WBENC-Certified Women’s Business Enterprise with 20 years of language service experience. A global network of highly skilled translators and interpreters are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for on-site, telephonic and video remote interpretation services. Our linguists are available in over 350 languages and dialects, and our network includes certified translators and interpreters. Our work is guaranteed with a $1 Million Errors & Omissions policy, so that you can be confident that your project will be completed with the highest level of quality and professionalism within the field. For more information contact us at 1-877-567-8449 or visit our website at

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