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Incorrect Translation in Immigration Proceedings Can Cost you a Green Card

June 7, 2017

Incorrect Translation in Immigration Proceedings Can Cost you a Green Card

Author: New York Immigration Attorney Alena Shautsova

Any person applying for US Immigration benefits (apart from those who are filing for citizenship without any waivers) can bring an interpreter with himself/herself for an interview. When choosing an interpreter, one has to  keep in mind that the quality of the interpretation often will affect the results.

I have once attended an interview for asylum when an interpreter that a client insisted on bringing with her, could not translate accurately the name of the month when the events occurred. The “controlling” interpreter who should have corrected the one in the room (during an asylum interview, the government turns on a telephonic system when a government interpreter is listening to the interpreter the applicant invited and corrects or at least is supposed to correct all inaccurate translations). I did not speak the language and could not catch the mistake until another client, who happened to use the same interpreter but who also knew a little bit of English realized that the interpreter had very basic knowledge of the language he claimed to be proficient in. I have seen translations of documents that incorrectly omit the most important part of the document (I happened to speak both languages and could notice the mistake).

When a mistake is caught early enough, it is possible to correct it, but sometimes a mistake can ruin a person’s chance for relief completely.  It happens because the government would try to argue that the person is lying when testifies inaccurately, or a person’s testimony can be translated to have a very different meaning than the person intended to give it to; or a judge may come to a different conclusion based on an incorrect testimony.

There is a recent case coming form the Board of Immigration Appeals that discusses a situation that arose during the Immigration Bond proceedings. The stakes during the Bond proceedings are serious: if a judge determines a person does not deserve a bond, the person will remain in jail until her Immigration case is decided.  In the case at issue, the judge denied the bond. The Immigration Judge relied on the interpreter’s translation of the phrase, finding that when asked why he drove after drinking the respondent answered “that it seemed easy.” The person’s answer, however, was supposed to have been translated differently than it was: the interpreter translated person’s statement in Spanish, “Se me hizo facil” as “that it seemed easy,” but the phrase is a Mexican idiomatic expression which should be translated as “I didn’t think about it” or “I didn’t really think about the consequences.” Luckily for the person, the Board of Immigration Appeals agreed with him and now his request for bond will be re-evaluated. Matter of Hernandez, 8/4/16 BIA.

But it is not always the case. It means that when preparing your documents, you need to make sure you utilize professional services, that would not allow a sloppy job to interfere with your case.