Ciudad Juarez, Mexico – For Claudia, the journey from her small village in Guatemala in Guatemala to the US-Mexico border was difficult because she only spoke Ixil, one of the 21 Mayan languages in Guatemala.
On his way to what he expected to flee to the United States, he connected with the smugglers by hand and a few Spanish words he knew, begging for water, food, money, and going to the toilet.
Claudia and her four-year-old son Manuel arrived at the US border at the end of December 2020. The smugglers left them on the main road near Rio Grande and told her to cross the dry river to take them to the US Border Patrol. Claudia did not want her last name printed for fear of reprisals.
He said Border Patrol guards took photographs, fingerprinted and sent them to the Mexican border in Ciudad Juarez on the same day. When he gives her any instructions, she doesn’t understand.
After eight months in the El Buen Samaritano protected area in Ciudad Juarez, Claudia began to speak Spanish, but not enough to make sure she understood what was going on with her immigration case, or what she should do.
“I understand Spanish better than I can handle. I try to tell everyone that I understand what they are telling me, but sometimes it is difficult for me to communicate, to ask questions, ”Al Jazeera told Spanish.
Claudia and many others like her who do not speak a major language, such as Spanish or Portuguese, may suffer on the US-Mexico border for months or years, as there are few or no translators who speak their language to help them navigate in and out of the country.
Accommodation manager Juan Fierro said Claudia had to wait a long time for her to be registered.
“We have been talking to international aid agencies to try to find an Ixil translator because without one it will not be fixed” through the US system, Fierro told Al Jazeera.
Nearly all 500 rescue workers who have been detained in Fierro protected areas from January to June 2021 have left to receive complaints in the US after waiting six to 12 months. Only the newly evacuated from Mexico and Claudia remain.
Fierro detained more than 50 Spanish-speaking immigrants and those seeking rescue, mainly speaking Mayan languages in late 2021 alone – almost twice since 2020.
“Many are tired of waiting for an interpreter to leave and return home. “Only a handful of people wait to be able to find an interpreter and start their own business,” Fierro said.
This year, the number of migrants and asylum seekers in small-scale language groups caught at the border doubled, leading to a slowdown in the migration industry.
Amiena Khan, President of the National Association of Immigration Judge, said many cases involving Indian speakers have now been changed due to a lack of trained translators.
“The problem we are seeing is that there are very few Indian translators in our area, especially Mayan and the cases are being adjusted where a judge can ensure that they have the right translator,” Khan told Al Jazeera.
A U.S. court with immigration courts has more than 1.3 million cases of backlogs, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.
At least 40 languages are spoken by nearly 30,000 immigrants who have had cases since January, 2021 according to TRAC findings.
“Although traditional and other common languages make up minority cases of MPP – only 337 out of 29,423 – the need to find a language poses a challenge for both refugees and the Immigration courts,” according to an April 26 TRAC report.
It is difficult to quantify the number of people with a language barrier who may or may not be involved with foreign speakers.
As in the past, Indian-speaking numbers may be less than 1 percent, but only tens or hundreds may be of this type of limbo.
“These cases will not come to us until December 2023, which means we already have a surplus, and it is on top of any time it can take to get more local translators to work in a foreign country,” Khan said.
Khan said there was “frustration” among foreign judges as the issue “is causing more and more people to work harder and to fall behind”.
It is not only the US courts that are migrating to the United States that have to contend with those who speak Indian languages waiting for the cases to end, the US terrorist courts are facing them again.
Pablo, a 25-year-old Rarámuri from an Indian tribe in northern Mexico, crossed the border into the US carrying a bag of marijuana in retaliation for his robbery.
He was arrested in January, along with a group of immigrants from Mexico who were also carrying marijuana. While all the others were able to connect in Spanish to take part in a court hearing, Pablo’s case is still pending and he remains in jail.
“Most of Raramuri’s arrivals have not been taken to court, mainly because they do not speak the language and it is difficult to find their translators,” said Chris Carlin, Texas public defender Pablo and 12 other Raramuri.
Carlin said 10 years ago, when people born in Raramuri were found at the border carrying bags of marijuana, “The judge decided to let them return to Mexico with only a warning, because they do not understand what is going on,” Carlin said.
Dale Taylor, a former American missionary, and full-time translator at Raramuri, said the sheer number of recent cases like Pablo was “dangerous” and that there was so much he could not do on his own. Since January he has been asked to support 42 cases.
Taylor said he was the only Raramuri to train English translator in the US. Although she knows Pablo’s case, Taylor said there were 10 cases ahead of her.
Many translations of Indian languages in US courts take place over the telephone, by financial institutions such as Lionbridge and SOS International. But while this has helped to keep cases from escalating, the judges have come a long way in making the applicant more likely to try.
“Every statement has a personal meaning based on fact. I have to check the loyalty of the person I’ve been with, what can I do if they don’t speak the language,” Khan said.
Odilia Romero, an independent translator for the Zapotec language and co-founder of the Comunidades Indigenas en Liderazgo (CIELO), said many translators who support U.S. courts do not have the ability to represent refugees in civil cases.
“Few translators in U.S. courts have not been trained or trained to translate correctly for immigrants. They are gardeners or local workers who have moved to the same areas, but that does not mean that they know how to interpret correctly in a United States court, ”Romero said.
Although asylum seekers like Claudia and Pablo can go to court, after a long wait for an interpreter, there is no guarantee that they will be able to properly explain their request.
“This not only leaves foreigners from faraway places at the very end of the immigration courts and also violates human rights,” Romero said.
Claudia, a sleeper, says that returning to Guatemala is not possible.
“I’ll wait, as long as I have to. I can’t go back to Guatemala, there is a reason why I left, otherwise I would have been there, ”he said.