Can You Hear Me Now? Attorney Perceptions of Interpretation, Technology, and Power in Immigration Court

Maya P. Barak
University of Michigan-Dearborn

Credit: Shutterstock.com/ aerogondo2

Can You Hear Me Now? Attorney Perceptions of Interpretation, Technology, and Power in Immigration Court

The Executive Office for Immigration Review houses America’s trial-level immigration courts, which adjudicate hundreds of thousands of cases annually, many resulting in deportations. Most proceedings require interpretation and all rely heavily upon technology. Yet, we know little about communication and technology in these hearings, and even less about the views of attorneys who navigate this system daily. I examine the effects courtroom interpretation and technology have on immigrant voices as described in interviews with immigration attorneys representing clients facing deportation. Attorneys overwhelmingly characterize the court as procedurally unjust, pinpointing how flaws in interpretation, telephonic conferencing, and videoconferencing offer the illusion of due process. Drawing upon criminology, legal sociology, and linguistics, this study finds profound improvements are needed to ensure due process in the nation’s immigration courts, including:

  1. Elimination of telephonic and videoconferencing in all but extreme circumstances.
  2. Modernization of telephonic and videoconference technology.
  3. Improvement of interpreter standards and working conditions.
  4. Education of attorneys, judges, and interpreters regarding challenges inherent to courtroom interpretation and technology.

Although enhancing the quality of interpretation and technology protocols may improve immigrants’ access to justice in immigration court, meaningful immigration court reforms should reduce the need for an immigration court altogether.

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Author Names

Maya P. Barak

Date of Publication October 30, 2021
DOI 10.1177/23315024211034740

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