Trump Administration Intends to End Use Of In-Person Interpreters At Certain Immigration Hearings

End-Use Of In-Person Interpreters At Immigration Hearings
Written by: Taher Kameli, Esq. 

At one time, the famous words associated with the Statue of Liberty – “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” – truly exemplified the attitude of the US government toward immigration.  However, under the Trump administration, these words would appear to describe the immigration policies of another country, as the Trump administration takes action on a regular basis to restrict the rights of immigrants. This point was evidenced again by the news that the Trump administration intends to end the use of in-person interpreters at certain immigration hearings.

This action was announced by the Justice Department at a training session for immigration judges in June.  It specifically relates to the provision of in-person interpreters at so-called “master calendar” hearings.  These are the first hearings that undocumented immigrants typically receive in the United States; at these hearings, immigration judges meet with undocumented immigrants, usually dozens of them, in rapid succession to schedule their cases and to advise them of their rights. 

In place of in-person interpreters at these “master calendar” hearings, a video recorded in multiple languages would be played, advising immigrants of their rights and the course of the proceedings.  However, if an immigrant would have questions, or want to make comments to the judge, or if the judge would want confirmation that an immigrant understood the hearing, no in-person interpreter would be available to assist with communications.

The new “video instead of in-person interpreter” plan (expected to commence by the middle of July) was supported by the Justice Department as a cost-saving measure.  A Justice Department official (who was not authorized to speak on the record) described the new plan as “part of an effort to be good stewards of (the department’s) limited resources”.

The elimination of the in-person interpreters has received criticism.  Ashley Tabaddor, a judge in Los Angeles and President of the National Association of Immigration Judges Union, stated, “Interpreter cost is not a surprise cost – it’s an integral part of every case. . . . If they actually look at the courts as a real court, they would never be dismissive of the role of an interpreter.  But the fact that we are here and have these budget shortfalls means they have prioritized the budget in a way that is dismissive of the integral role of the interpreters and reflects the flaw of having the courts run by a law enforcement agency”.

Jeffrey Chase, a former immigration judge and former senior legal adviser to the immigration appeals court, stated, “You’re dealing with people’s lives. . . . All kinds of crazy issues arise.  Sometimes there’s a health issue, and you need to be able to communicate to find this stuff out. And also, people come in so afraid. . . . If they’re able to talk with the judge and realize, ‘This person is a human being and they’re able to work with me’ – being played a tape reinforces this feeling that, ‘I’m dealing with this deportation machine.’ . . . You always hear the word ‘efficiency’ from this administration now, and it’s very infrequent that you hear ‘due process’ or ‘justice’. . . . There’s no longer concern about the balance. 

It’s totally efficiency-heavy these days, and I think it’s being decided by people who haven’t been in the court much and don’t understand the consequences”.

While the elimination of in-person interpreters at “master calendar” hearings may be formally challenged in court on “due process” or other grounds, by even proposing this new rule, the Trump administration is putting forth another anti-immigration policy that will at minimum portray the United States as longer as welcoming to immigrants and thereby deter immigration. 

Perhaps such deterrence of immigration is the true objective of the Trump administration. In this environment of hostility to immigration, immigrants need the support of qualified immigration attorneys, such as Kameli Law, which has successfully defended the rights of immigrants for many years. If you have any immigration issue, please contact the Kameli Law, at or 312-233-1000, for representation.

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