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Indigenous asylum seekers from Mexico struggle for interpreters in the US

by Jul 3, 2021News0 comments

Indigenous asylum seekers from Mexico struggle for interpreters in the US
Indigenous asylum seekers from Mexico struggle for interpreters in the US

For Claudia, the journey from her small Guatemalan village in Guatemala to the US-Mexico border was complicated by the fact she could speak only her native Ixil, one of 21 Mayan languages in Guatemala.

On way to what she had hoped would be asylum in the United States, she communicated with the smugglers with hand gestures and the few words of Spanish she knew, to ask for water, food, money, and to go to the toilet.

Claudia and her four-year-old son Manuel arrived at the US border at the end of December 2020. Her smugglers dropped them off at a highway right next to the Rio Grande and told her to walk past the dry river and turn herself into the US Border Patrol. Claudia did not want her last name published for fear of reprisals.

She said the Border Patrol agents took photos, fingerprinted them both and sent them back to the Mexican border city Ciudad Juarez the same day. If they gave her any instructions, she did not understand them.

After eight months at the El Buen Samaritano shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Claudia has begun to speak some Spanish, but not enough to ensure she understands what’s happening with her immigration case, or what she should be doing.

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I understand more Spanish than I can speak. I try to tell everyone that I understand what they are telling me, but sometimes, it is hard for me to communicate, to ask some questions” she told Al Jazeera in halting Spanish.

Claudia and the dozens like her who do not speak a mainstream language, such as Spanish or Portuguese, can languish at the US-Mexico border for months or years because there are few or no interpreters that speak their Indigenous language to help them navigate the immigration and asylum systems.

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I understand more Spanish than I can speak. I try to tell everyone that I understand what they are telling me, but sometimes, it is hard for me to communicate, to ask some questions” she told Al Jazeera in halting Spanish.

Claudia and the dozens like her who do not speak a mainstream language, such as Spanish or Portuguese, can languish at the US-Mexico border for months or years because there are few or no interpreters that speak their Indigenous language to help them navigate the immigration and asylum systems.

Most of them get tired of waiting for an interpreter and leave to go back to their hometowns. Only very few wait long enough to get an interpreter and start their immigration process”, Fierro said.

This year, the number of migrants and asylum seekers from small villages speaking only their traditional languages apprehended at the border almost doubled, creating a long backlog for the immigration legal system.

Indigenous asylum seekers from Mexico struggle for interpreters in the US
Indigenous asylum seekers from Mexico struggle for interpreters in the US

Amiena Khan, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said most cases regarding Indigenous language speakers are now being rescheduled because of a lack of trained interpreters.

“The problem we are seeing is that in our community there are too few Indigenous interpreters, especially for Mayan languages and cases are being rescheduled to where a judge can be confident that they get a proper interpreter”, Khan told Al Jazeera. Here

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