Is there interpreter discrimination in some U.S. Federal Courts?

February 21, 2019 § 7 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

Despite the bottomless well of ineptitude also known as the current administration of the federal court interpreter examination (I do not want to group this crowd with the efficient teams in charge of this program before the 2017 fiasco) there were a few interpreters who, even under the sub-standard conditions of the exam, passed with flying colors and became the newest Spanish language court interpreters certified by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AO).

The Federal Court Interpreter Act of 1978 provides that the Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts shall prescribe, determine, and certify the qualifications of persons who may serve as certified interpreters (28 USC §1827)

In discharging said responsibilities, the AO classifies as Spanish language certified court interpreters those who have passed the two phases of the Administrative Office certification examination, have no criminal record, and meet the interpreter skills outlined in the AO’s website (https://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/federal-court-interpreters/interpreter-skills):

  • High proficiency in both English and Spanish.
  • Impartiality
  • Ability to accurately and idiomatically turn the message from the source language into the receptor language with no additions, omissions or other misleading factors that alter the intended meaning of the message from the speaker.
  • Mastery of simultaneous interpretation, which is the most frequent form of interpretation used in the courtroom, and of consecutive interpretation and sight translation.
  • Ability to communicate orally including appropriate delivery and poise.
  • Demonstrate high professional standards for courtroom demeanor and professional conduct.

Individuals who meet all requirements may request a freelance interpreter contract from any federal district court. Court administrators, chief judges, clerks of the court, and staff managing interpreters should honor the request and offer work to these interpreters unless they have a legally valid reason not to do so.

When I devoted most of my practice to court interpreting, I witnessed, as I am sure you have, many conversations among veteran certified court interpreters concerned that those who recently became certified, or the ones who had just moved to town, would have a negative impact on the caseload assigned to them by the courthouse. I heard colleagues supporting the veteran interpreters arguing that newly certified colleagues, were a liability due to their lack of court experience.

I have learned of at least two instances, in different parts of the United States, where newly certified colleagues are systematically ignored by those who schedule court interpreter assignments. Even though these interpreters meet all eligibility requirements to work in federal court anywhere in the United States, apparently, they have been excluded for what seem inexcusable reasons such as lack of experience, or because they got certified in the most questionable certification exam cycle in history.

I hope the reasons above are not true, and the icing of the new interpreters ends soon. It is perplexing to hear that a recently certified court interpreter cannot interpret in court because of lack of experience. Where do these staffers want them to acquire said experience if they continue to slam the courthouse doors? To those schedulers who follow the “lack of experience” argument with a “they are not ready because they do not know our system, how we work” I say: If they passed an exam as difficult as the federal court interpreter’s, they will learn your “system” in a couple of hours because, despite of what you think, it is just a way to do things. It is not rocket science”.

I simply remind those who question the knowledge and skills of court interpreters certified last time that on top of passing such a difficult test, these colleagues had to do it in an environment reminiscent of the Dark Ages’ worst torture chamber, where they had to deal with an internet service as reliable as smoke signal messaging in the Wild West, where they had to take notes on their knees because there was no room on the table to do so, where they had less time for their consecutive rendition than we did because they had to manipulate the recording, listen, take notes, and interpret, all within the same time. And for the cherry on their cake: they had to wait many long months for their scores, enduring silence and negligent treatment from the AO and its chosen contractor. Please remember, these are not the interpreters who will retest (a sad group where some day many capable colleagues must go through this process again because of the ineptitude of others).

I ask all veteran certified court interpreters to welcome the class of 2017, and I appeal to the open minds of scheduling staffers, interpreters and others, to stop discriminating against certified interpreters just because they are new, and for that reason do not know your system or are not your friends, and include them in your rotations and assignments. Veteran interpreters: do not fear the newbies. We can all learn from each other, and if you get fewer assignments in court, remember: you are a freelancer, look for work somewhere else. You probably will find more variety and much better pay. I now invite my colleagues, veterans and rookies, to share their thoughts with the rest of us.

What we learned as Interpreters in 2014.

December 26, 2014 § 5 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

Now that 2014 is coming to an end and we are working towards a fruitful and meaningful 2015, we can look back and assess what we learned during the past 12 months. As interpreters our career is a constant learning experience, and from talking with many of my colleagues, 2014 was no exception. I personally grew up as an interpreter and got to appreciate our profession even more. The year that ends gave me once again the opportunity to work with magnificent interpreters and many of my dearest colleagues.

Our profession had some positive developments this year: IAPTI and ATA held very successful conferences in Athens and Chicago respectively, many colleagues passed the written portion of the United States Federal Court Interpreter exam, the state of Illinois chose quality and rolled out its state court interpreter certification program, there were many opportunities for professional development, some of them very good, including several webinars in different languages and on different topics; we had some important technological advancements that made our life easier, and contrary to the pessimists’ forecast, there was plenty of work and opportunities. Of course not everything was good. Our colleagues in the U.K. continue to fight a war against mediocrity and misdirected greed, colleagues in other European countries, like Spain, are under siege by governments that want to lower the quality of translation and interpreting services in the legal arena to unimaginable levels of incompetence; interpreters around the world faced attempts from special interest groups to erode our profession by lowering professional standards and creating questionable certification programs, and of course, we had the para-interpreters trying to “take over” the market by charging laughable fees under shameful working conditions in exchange for miserable services.

During 2014 I worked with interpreters from many countries and diverse fields of expertise. I was able to learn from, and to share my knowledge and experience with many colleagues dear to me and with some new interpreters and translators. This past year gave me the opportunity to learn many things at the professional conferences I attended, from the interpreting and translation books that I read, and of course working in the booth, the TV stations, the recording studios, and many other venues.

On the personal level, 2014 was a very important year in my life: I met new friends, developed new relationships, realized and learned to appreciate how good some of my old friends are, noticed and understood how I had been taken advantage of and stopped it, and after careful analysis, I reaffirmed my determination to remain a citizen of Chicago by purchasing a beautiful condo in a skyscraper located in the heart of the Magnificent Mile. This year I had the honor and the fortune to present before conference audiences in different continents. During the year that ends I traveled to many professional conferences and workshops, all good and beneficial. Because of their content, and for the impact they had on me, I have to mention the Mexican Translators Organization / International Book Fair (OMT/FIL) conference in Guadalajara, Mexico: a top-quality event, the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators’ (NAJIT) Annual Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters’ (IAPTI) Annual Conference in Athens, Greece, and the California Federation of Interpreters (CFI) Annual Conference in Los Angeles, California. My only regret was that for professional obligations I was not able to attend the American Translators Association’s (ATA) Annual Conference in my own town of Chicago. This year that is about to end was filled with professional experiences acquired all over the world as I constantly traveled throughout the year, meeting new colleagues, including one who instantly became one of my dearest friends, and catching up with good friends and colleagues. Now, as I sit before my computer reminiscing and re-living all of these life-enriching experiences, I ask you to share some of your most significant professional moments during this past year.

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