Helping Influence Local and National Change in 2009

As Sakhi gears up for 2010, we take a look back at the accomplishments on our policy work.  Sakhi’s Court Interpreters Project came into existence in the mid-1990s as a platform to address flaws within New York City’s interpreting services for court users.  Language access and interpreting services are essential for immigrant women using the judicial system who are proficient in a language other than English.   A major focus in 2009 was holding focus groups with court interpreters to highlight gaps in services.  The topics in these discussion groups ranged from the need for system-wide reform to interpreters sharing advice on how attorneys and judges should engage with Limited English Proficient (LEP) clients in order to best utilize interpreters.

Key themes emerging in these sessions included court interpreter isolation from the rest of the court system, issues of vicarious trauma, how attorneys and judges can better understand the field of court interpretation, and how interpreters play a vital role in the lives of LEP individuals. Other barriers the groups discussed included the need for better pay, more accessible continuing education classes for sensitive issues such as domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault and the lack of qualified interpreters in the field.

Sakhi responded with productive tools in order to address the concerns and issues brought up in these focus groups. One response was the creation of a tip sheet to educate lawyers about interpretation from the interpreters’ perspectives. The tip sheet enables attorneys to consider interpretation as part of case preparation and trial work. Questions such as, “How does an attorney discuss sensitive issues with a client and maintain attorney-client privilege in the courtroom; What are the roles of interpreters; What are the roles of lawyers?”

Furthermore, Sakhi in collaboration with Legal Services of New York City held a training on language access issues at the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), a non-profit that serves diverse immigrant and deaf communities. During the training, Sakhi distributed the new tip sheet and helped NYLPI staff to better understand the role of interpreters, see the role of lawyers through the lens of court interpreters and underscore the importance of effective lawyer/interpreter communication to best serve LEP clients.

As a response to the vicarious trauma issue discussed in the focus groups, an article for the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) was published in the Winter 2009 issue of NAJIT’s newsletter, Proteus. The article raises awareness of vicarious trauma in the court interpreter community, discusses exposure risk and the reasons why interpreters may exhibit this condition as well as offers tips and tools for alleviating the problem.

While Sakhi continues to create change within the local legal system from the grassroots level, policy transforms at the national level.  Last year the Obama administration reinstated a gender-based asylum remedy, which reopened a legal remedy to domestic violence survivors worldwide. In a Department of Homeland Security brief filed in April 2009, the Administration expressed its position that the United States could indeed grant asylum to those fleeing abuse at the hands of their domestic partners in their home countries. Although there are heavy burdens of proof placed on domestic violence victims seeking asylum, these regulations open an avenue of protection that was previously unavailable to survivors.

Sakhi is excited to celebrate these accomplishments in our ongoing policy initiatives and is committed to continually advocate for change.

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