New Delays Loom As Court Interpreters Seek New Deal

Less than 15 percent of U.S. Immigration Court proceedings are conducted entirely in English, meaning that interpreters are vital to getting things done. Now, already facing more than 450,000 cases backlogged for years, the immigration justice system may lose many of those language assets. BuzzFeed News is reporting that “… interpreters across the country are refusing to sign on to a new contract to service U.S. immigration courts, citing what they call unacceptably low pay and poor working conditions.
The background in the report: “Immigration courts are part of the executive branch and administered by the Department of Justice. DoJ uses a combination of 67 staff and 1,650 freelance interpreters to ensure that immigrants facing deportation understand the proceedings against them. In July, the Justice Department switched contractors, awarding a new contract for more than $12 million annually to SOSi, according to a database of federal contracts. The contract can be extended five years for a total of about $58 million.
“The contract was initially slated to kick in on September 21, according to DOJ. However, emails to the interpreters from from Lionbridge, the company that currently holds the contract, state that the switch had been deferred to November. Interpreters around the country refused to agree to SOSi’s terms under the new contract because of low pay and ungenerous travel reimbursement and cancellation policies, according to several interpreters interviewed by BuzzFeed News. Because the interpreters are organizing informally, the precise number refusing to sign on is unclear. However, two interpreters in different regions told BuzzFeed News they were each in direct contact with more than 100 interpreters who had refused. On any given day, there are about 300 contract interpreters working for the immigration courts, according to a spokesperson for the courts. That means that about a third of interpreters could be unavailable once the new contract kicks in.”