In the middle of January 2017, USCIS released a Policy Memorandum concerning “The Role and Use of Interpreters in Domestic Field Office Interviews.” The new memo (PM-602-0125.1) standardizes guidance on the use of interpreters agency wide in order to ensure that the rules are applied uniformly and fairly. It should be of particular importance to those summoned to appear at USCIS interviews who are not fluent in or able to communicate competently in English. (The policy does not apply to the following scenarios or situations, which have their own protocols: asylum interviews; credible fear screening interviews; NACARA related interviews; refugee interviews; interviews conducted at a USCIS overseas office; and interviews for which USCIS provides an interpreter.)
If given the choice, most people would prefer to have a friend or preferably family member conduct translation between them and the USCIS officer. However, in deciding whether to authorize such a person to interpret, the officer must determine whether the proposed interpreter will accurately, literally, and fully interpret what is being said between the parties. There are three core qualifications that an interpreter must meet in order to serve:
•· Impartial and Unbiased
While friends and family members are not automatically prohibited from translation, there may be an inherent bias and lack of impartiality that compromises the accuracy and integrity of the translation. As such, an officer must consider whether there is a conflict of interest between the proposed interpreter and the parties. Both the interpreter and the interviewee are obligated to disclose “any relationship, predisposition, or preconceived opinion that could affect the interpreter’s objectivity and consequently his or her ability to provide impartial and objective interpretation during the interview.” Not surprisingly, and practically speaking as well, family members are generally disqualified, although depending on the case and circumstances, an officer does have the discretion to allow it. Either the parties or the officer must find an Exception for Good Cause, which must be documented in the file and approved by a supervisor. Some examples of Good Cause, as specifically referenced, include:
•· Prejudicial Delay
•· The Interviewee Lives In a Rural or Remote Area
•· Rare Dialect or Language
•· Confidential Medical Conditions
•· Confidential/Protected Information
•· Interviewees With Certain Physical Or Mental Disabilities
The policy lays out general categories of individuals who are restricted from translating:
•· Individuals between the ages of 14-17-unless an exception for good cause applies
•· Witnesses-unless an exception for good cause applies
•· Individuals under the age of 14
Additionally, officers are cautioned to be “particularly vigilant” when a “derivative” requests to serve. A derivative is someone who can obtain an immigration benefit under a principal applicant if the principal applicant’s application is granted. For example, if a person is applying for adjustment of status on the basis of an approved employment based petition, his/her spouse and/or children may be derivative applicants. So while, like family members, derivative applicants are not strictly disallowed, there exists a strong practical presumption against them serving as translators.
The Role of a Lawyer Vs. Translator
Contrary to popular belief, the memorandum also confirms that attorneys are not allowed to serve as interpreters. If an attorney wishes to relinquish his/her role as the legal representative, he or she will be required to withdraw the G-28, Notice of Entry as Appearance as Attorney. Even assuming the G-28 is withdrawn, the adjudicating officer must still obtain supervisory approval to allow a lawyer to translate. If anything, this only underscores the indispensable role of the attorney, whose presence can prove invaluable. While a lawyer does not translate, his or her function is arguably more important: as a witness to the proceeding, an attorney can observe whether the interview is being conducted properly and whether the interviewee is being treated fairly. In a marriage interview, for example, a third-party witness may be crucial to establishing whether there was, in fact, a discrepancy between the answers or how a question was answered. In other contexts, an attorney may need to serve as an advocate for the client. While it is not appropriate for the attorney to answer questions for the client, he or she may provide supplementary information to the officer that may be relevant to a decision. In other cases, the attorney may need to object to a line of questioning if the tenor and direction are out of line.
In contrast, as already discussed above, the translator’s role is more ministerial. He or she must faithfully and accurately interpret what is being said, without any commentary or summarization. The interpreter must execute a Declaration on Form G-1256 and swear, under oath, to abide by USCIS Standards of Conduct, which includes literal and full translation; a commitment to confidentiality; and consecutive interpretation, that is, providing translation that is as verbatim as possible. The interpreter is prohibited from, among other things, summarizing or commenting on either what the officer or interviewee says, which is very common among inexperienced interpreters who tend to rephrase or try to resolve unclear statements in their own words.
For more information on what your rights are during an immigration interview, please contact our office. As attorneys, we appear on a regular basis at interviews scheduled in Newark and Mount Laurel, New Jersey. The above is general information only and not to be relied upon as legal advice. It does not create an attorney client relationship nor should it be relied upon as advice in lieu of consultation with an attorney.