I interpreted at an asylum hearing this week. When the officer asked for my ID, I gave him my court interpreter badge. I always do this, so they are aware that they are working with a professional.

They put a monitor on the phone to make sure I was interpreting accurately and impartially. That is part of our code of ethics as court interpreters. If we are not sure what something means, we ask for clarification. If we didn’t hear everything the person said, we ask for a repetition. We respect the other person’s message and give that message, as a sacred trust. It is their message, not ours.

Things were smooth. The monitor never said a word, and the officer was impressed. Apparently, that surprised him. I left wondering:

Why would asylum applicants want anything less than accurate, smooth interpreting? These are high stakes appointments, and both the officer and the applicant have a vested interest in clear communication.

Why does the applicant have to provide the interpreter? That means the applicant has to cover the cost of the interpreting, even though USCIS states that applicants may bring in volunteers. A professional will expect to be remunerated.

Every other branch of the federal government and every branch of the private sector that receives any money from the federal government is required to provide meaningful language access at no cost to the public.

I was glad to serve, and I realized once again how important quality is in every setting where I am called.

Interpreting is truly a sacred trust. Another person trusts me with their message, which I am expected to deliver intact, across a language barrier, to yet another person. And back and forth I go.

Translation is also a sacred trust. I consult with my clients regarding ambiguities. I always follow a quality control process by working with a reviewer: another ATA certified translator from a different country. Publishers always have several editors check their text. We should do no less.

Interpreting and translation demand attention to detail, focus, and academic integrity as we are willing to accept our colleagues’ questions. That is why clients should request certified translators and interpreters. The immigration officers I have worked with both said that only  certified court interpreters provided this level of service reliably.