Can't find an interpreter: Can my asylum interview be done in Spanish?

Some offices may be able to interview applicants in Spanish, but they don't have to, and you can't count on this being an option.

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Question

I am a citizen of Guatemala and speak very little English. I cannot find anyone to translate for me at my asylum interview. Can the interview be done in Spanish?

Answer

Any asylum applicant who does not speak English fluently is required to bring an interpreter to the asylum interview. The interpreter must be fluent in both English and in the applicant’s native language. (See 8 C.F.R. 208.9(g).)

The reason for this rule is to make sure that the officer completely understands your testimony and that you completely understand the officer’s questions. However, the asylum office knows that it can be challenging to find competent interpreters. Some asylum applicants don’t know anyone who speaks English fluently. Others may only know translators who are afraid to come to a government office.

Because of this, each of the eight asylum offices in the United States has a local policy on whether an asylum officer is allowed to interview an applicant in a foreign language.

If you arrive for your interview without an interpreter and your asylum office is one that allows interviews to be conducted in different languages, you should explain your situation to the clerk at the desk when you check in. He or she will decide whether to give your case to an officer who will speak with you in Spanish or whether to reschedule your interview for another day.

Only officers certified to conduct interviews in Spanish will be allowed to do so. The officer will have taken a test to make sure they are fluent in Spanish and will ask for your permission to proceed with the interview in this way.

You should do everything you can to find a good interpreter before showing up at your interview without one. If you are not 100% comfortable that the person you brought is translating correctly, you can always tell the officer during the interview. If the officer agrees that the interpreter is not doing a good job, he or she will stop the interview and either reschedule you for another day or conduct the interview in Spanish.

You might try local churches or even law school clinics to see whether you can find someone fluent in Spanish and English.

by: , J.D., LL.M.

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