When Professor Merton and I first met, we had some trouble deciding which direction or topic we wanted to focus our research on, especially since a research project can be so vague and taken in so many directions. We knew that we wanted to conduct research that would have real impact, and bring new knowledge to a dynamic field of current interest while alleviating the questions and concerns of both professionals and average citizens. Based on Professor Merton’s current work and experience with the Immigration Justice Clinic at Pace Law School, as well as my personal background, we decided to explore the role of interpreters and translators in the practice of Immigration law.
We started brainstorming and identifying issues that could be addressed. Interpreters play such an essential role in Immigration Court and before immigration agencies. Their interpretation and translation of testimony, stories, facts and events are the foundation of the decision-making of judges and immigration agents. Interpreters become the voice of clients. They also facilitate the exchange of communication between the client and his/her lawyer. Yet because the government is not required to provide interpretation and translation services during most interactions with immigrants, many of these interpreters are volunteers, neither trained nor required to possess any particular background or knowledge. Often they are children or youth pressed into communicating about terribly serious and difficult subjects on behalf of their beloved family members. This could be and frequently is traumatic even for mature professionals; for the “informal interpreters” who must cope with such great responsibility despite a complete lack of preparation, it is an enormous challenge.
What is it that makes the difference between a good and bad interpreter? How do emotion and feeling come into play when interpreting? What training or knowledge would be of use or, on the contrary, detrimental to develop more competent and comfortable informal interpreters? With all these questions in mind we decided to work on creating some type of guide or relatively rapid training program to enable informal interpreters to achieve a much higher level of skill, technique, and professionalism. We will test our guidance model on informal interpreters who are assisting clients of the Law School’s immigration clinics, and based on their feedback and experience, refine and amplify the scope of our orientation and teaching materials.