As the Demand for Court Interpreters Climbs, State Budget Conflicts Grow as Well

States lag in funding court interpreters for immigrants speaking many different languages. The federal DOJ is cracking down on states, forcing them to comply with the law and find the funds.
News Story (Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island)

Fernanda Santos
New York Times (NYT)
June 14, 2014
Link to story

Tags: Courts, Funding: State & Local, Language Access

Organizations mentioned/involved: National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT)


Many states increasingly look like New Mexico, with its diverse population, and they are grappling with the rising cost of providing interpreters for non-English speakers. In places like Ohio, Kansas and Illinois, where immigrants speaking many different languages have settled in recent years, the courts struggle within financial constraints to meet their obligations under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires them to provide interpreters in all civil and criminal proceedings. In Ohio, for example, the most recent survey of local courts showed that spending on interpreters had increased to $1.1 million in 2010 from $55,000 in 1998, fueled by profound demographic changes.

Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said states had “a civil rights obligation” to find the money to cover the growing costs of court interpreters. Pleading poverty, she said, “cannot insulate state courts systems from compliance.”

She went on, “We recognize that there are financial constraints, but on the other hand, failure to comply involves costs as well,” like appeals and reversals because parties could not understand the proceedings, and delays in cases because interpreters could not be found.
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The Justice Department, which has watched the problem grow, has cracked down. Ms. Samuels’s office has stepped up enforcement in recent years, forcing corrective actions in states like Rhode Island, Colorado and North Carolina.
In New Mexico, court interpreters generally work in Spanish or Navajo, mostly at a rate of $47 an hour, excluding driving time and mileage, a significant expense in a state that is far bigger than New York, New Jersey and Connecticut combined, Mr. Pepin said.