The Intricacies of Spanish Interpretation in US-Mexico Border Relations
The term “Spanish interpretation” couldn’t be more ambiguous when it comes to facilitating positive outcomes at the US-Mexico border. In a post on NPR’s Fresh Air page, University of California, Berkeley, School of Information linguist Geoff Nunberg writes, “Nobody should need reminding that there’s more to the cultures of the land south of the border than just tequila and tacos. But people aren’t always aware that there’s more to them than just Spanish, too.”
His observation couldn’t be more accurate and was written to highlight the travesty that occurred when a 7-year-old girl, Jakelin (Jackie), died as the result not only of dehydration but also complete miscommunication between U.S. border officials and her father. The miscommunication was largely because the dad doesn’t speak fluent Spanish, he speaks the indigenous Mayan language Q’eqchi’.
Using qualified Spanish interpreters, as well as interpreters trained to work in indigenous languages, is the only way to facilitate the most positive outcomes from what is already a notable failure on the part of the US government and its immigration policies.
A working knowledge of the Spanish language is not sufficient
Contrasting some of the more horrific headlines populating newsfeeds, such as the afore-referenced article from NPR, is this one from the AP: Family Separations Bring Call for Rare Language Interpreters.
The article highlights how communities along the US-Mexico border are doing everything they can to rally rare language interpreters to help sort out the chaos created when border officials and Spanish linguists can’t interpret dialects or indigenous languages. While this idea is sound, there is one major problem; although the majority of the interpreters rallying to the cry are warmhearted and well-meaning, they are not sufficiently qualified or experienced.
Qualified conference interpreters are the only failsafe solution
While community and amateur, native speakers may be able to provide solace and some very basic interpreting needs to those detained and facing deportation, they are not qualified to handle the level of support required in the courtroom – or even to keep their cool during heated exchanges, becoming involved on a personal level, to the detriment of their clients. Qualified conference interpreters are the only failsafe solution at this point.
An NYT post, Anyone Speak K’iche’ or Mam?, shares the interpreted courtroom dialogue between indigenous Q’anjob’al (a Mayan language) speaker Magdalena Lucas Antonio de Pascual and Judge Phillip S. Law. It continues to highlight the dire need for specialty interpreters to accurately represent a notable number of detainees and family members who simply do not speak Spanish.
While community and courtroom interpreters are sufficient for run-of-the-mill legal cases, they are not sufficient for immigration and detention cases that are being watched and analyzed in the international arena. Qualified conference interpreters are the only option when the stakes are this high, when specialty language skills are required, and when legal and humanitarian issues are at stake.
Intricacies of interpretation, legal proceedings, and diplomacy require the best of the best
There are several reasons why the US Government and international organizations should be prioritizing the use of conference interpreters who have expert legal, immigration, and/or specialty language backgrounds.
Accurate interpretations save lives at the border
As the heartbreaking case of 7-year-old Jakelin revealed, accurate interpretations can actually mean the difference between an innocent life saved – or lost. There is no excuse for human suffering or death as a result of inadequate interpreting services or miscommunication. That is a travesty worthy of UN notice, support, and intervention.
When interpreters are being used to facilitate this level of high-stakes communication, it’s wise to hire linguists with experience serving as interpreters and expert witnesses in legal proceedings.
Diplomacy is always a priority
Regardless of one’s views on immigration, Mexico and its border are not going anywhere. The US has a vested interest in having a positive – or at least respectful – relationship with its southern neighbors. In addition to the obvious humanitarian concerns, our national security is threatened when we have justifiably angry border neighbors.
Conference interpreters focus on diplomacy at all times, maintaining their cool in the toughest of situations. This is something most community interpreters may not be trained or prepared for – and the results can be disastrous if interpreters allow their emotions to get the best of them.
Experience is crucial in high-stakes situations and environments
Similarly, the best Spanish language interpreters and those who work in indigenous languages are trained to perform in the most rigorous environments and with a number of Spanish variants, terminology, and accents from Mexico City to Buenos Aires, from Bógota to Lima, from Cancun to Barcelona, from Miami to Santiago – and beyond.
This includes the international arbitration arena, where organizations such as the UN in New York City and the OAS in Washington, DC benefit from established interpreters who know exactly what they are doing, and who are guided as much by their professional code of ethics as their education, training, and experience.
Do you have personal, political, legal, or professional interests at stake at the US-Mexico border? Contact Chang-Castillo and Associates online, or give us a call at +1 (877) 708-0005. Our interpreters are considered the platinum standard in our industry. We can provide superb Spanish and indigenous language interpreting and translation services at the border, at home, and abroad. We’re ready to facilitate successful, human-centric and diplomatic outcomes for you, your family, and your clients. Let’s join forces and become part of the solution.