Need for Translators for Immigrants in Hawaiian Courts

October 6, 2015 11:07 am
by David Jakeman

While many people have watched in awe as companies like Google explore possibilities in machine translation, the innovations still have a long way to go before they can solve challenges facing court translation. Hawaii courts are struggling to keep up with the demand for translation for individuals facing charges.

Hawaii Courts Need Translators

A court case is not something you really want to leave up to Google translate. Facing life in prison is probably not something you put into the hands of the vicissitudes of computer programs, especially when it comes to less commonly spoken languages. It would be one thing to have Google translating from Spanish to English. It would be even riskier to have the court relying on Google to translate from Marshallese to English.

So the machines have not replaced humans in the realm of translation as far as court proceedings are concerned. And in the case of the Hawaii courts, there are many immigrants involved in court proceedings who are in need of a translator. The main reason for this is that many of the immigrants coming from Pacific islands are part of the Compact of Free Association, which allows Micronesian immigrants and Marshallese immigrants to move throughout the United States freely. Hawaii, being the closest landing pad, has seen a large number of these immigrants. Other immigrants come from the Republic of Palau.

Finding Qualified Interpreters

Because there are not a lot of certified translators for many of these Pacific-island immigrants, the courts have had to work hard to make sure that everyone has equal access to the courts. So far, no Hawaii immigration attorneys have seen cases delayed because of an inability to find translators, but they do understand the need to make sure their clients are adequately represented.
Immigrants requiring translation services has varied, but Marshallese is the third most common language needed for translation. Chuukese, which is spoken by Micronesian immigrants from the Chuuk state is another needed language. Filipino immigrants in Hawaii have also needed assistance. Ilocanoa, spoken by many of the Filipino immigrants, has been needed for translation in the courts.
Even with translators, court proceedings can be a difficult process. Legal language can be impenetrable—just ask any first-year law student. But imagine translating the legal language into another language that has its own cultural assumptions imbedded within the language. It’s not the easiest job to translate well. Such difficulties in communication can lead to frustrations for those involved in the process, with several feeling like they aren’t getting the best representation.

In order to try to meet the needs of foreign language speakers, some Hawaii courts hold International Day, which allow translators to work with many different individuals involved in court proceedings.1 Waikoloa immigration attorneys know that the immigration system can be complicated enough. Trying to explain it through an interpreter only adds another layer that can make it difficult. As the COFA immigrants continue to flow into the United States, it is likely the courts will continue to struggle to meet the demand for translators.


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