Any attorney who has practiced in Immigration Court can give you a war story (or several dozen) about the unreliability of the translation services provided in court. It's hit-or-miss; sometimes the interpreter is competent, sometimes he isn't. Today, the Fourth Circuit reversed an adverse credibility decision, citing in large part the evidence that the interpretation services were insufficient. The court began by reviewing the telltale signs of interpretation problems:
First, direct evidence of incorrectly translated words is persuasive evidence of an incompetent translation. Second, unresponsive answers by the witness provide circumstantial evidence of translation problems. A third indicator of an incompetent translation is the witness’s expression of difficulty understanding what is said to him.
The court then proceeded to discuss how all three of these indicators were present in the case, noting that
The two days of testimony were translated by two different interpreters, with nearly all instances of potential confusion (involving both the petitioner and his witness) arising on the first day. The transcript of that day reveals:
• An instance when the interpreter failed to translate Ilunga’s statement that he was sexually assaulted in jail, an omission caught by Ilunga’s attorney, leading to the translator’s opaque admission after the fact that he thought Ilunga “was not speaking clearly and this interpreter, perhaps, what he could hear from him [sic]”
• A repeated disconnect between questions and answers
• At least 16 times during the first day’s testimony when Ilunga or Kalala stated they did not understand a question
•An instance when Ilunga’s attorney believed the interpreter translated Ilunga’s statement as saying he suffered at the hands of the political party he worked for, instead of the party he opposed
• Confusion about whether Ilunga testified that he told his wife and children to flee their home while he was still in prison or after
• At least 11 times when the interpreter needed a question repeated
• Frequent grammatical errors and questionable word choices
The court concluded that these issues should have been warning flags to the Immigration Judge, and thus, that the Immigration Judge's credibility analysis was flawed.
The complete text of Ilunga v. Holder can be found here: http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/Opinions/Published/132064.P.pdf