The ATA Chronicle - July/August 2020 - 23

specialties in various medical fields
will be of greater value than those with
legal experience.
Translators have the privilege of
taking breaks as often as needed. Take
them. Moreover, volunteer organizations
are sensitive to the secondary impacts of
this kind of work and offer office hours
for debriefing, webinars on secondary
trauma, or label their translation
requests with trigger warnings.
Some of the unique challenges
have been translating handwritten
documents, especially those with
spelling errors and/or a lack of
punctuation. Translators need to
preserve some degree of the sense
and feel of the original while making
the text comprehensible to an asylum
officer. Another challenge may come
with the quality of the copy. For
instance, sometimes the only way to
receive a document is via a cell phone
photo uploaded to WhatsApp. This
is becoming increasingly common
now due to the border closure and
restrictions with COVID-19.
The workflow for translators is quite
manageable. Typically, organizations
send out translation requests once a
week with a short description of the
document, length, and turnaround
time. The cohort of volunteers then
reply back with what they would be
willing to take on. Other groups may
use a spreadsheet system in which you
sign up to take on a document or set of
documents. This allows volunteers to
maintain total control of the quantity
of work they handle in any given
week. I've been proud to work for the
following groups and applaud them
for their professionalism: Respond:
Crisis Translators Network; Refugee
and Immigration Center for Education
and Legal Services; Al Otro Lado; the
Migrant and Immigrant Community
Action Project; and the Capital Area
Immigrants' Rights Coalition.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR DIRECT
CLIENT SERVICES
Direct services mean working with a
client directly, one-on-one, without
the presence of a lawyer, social worker,
www.atanet.org

In many cases, the interpreter is literally the first person to hear
a refugee's story and the first to voice this story to someone in a
position to help.

or psychologist. Taking on the role of
direct service provider will require
some adjustment, especially for those
who are trained to be unobtrusive and
impartial. However, if you have the
language skills to do interpreting, you
also have the level of language skills
needed to provide direct services. If
this appeals to you, then step entirely
out of your interpreter role and act
as an administrative legal assistant
and advocate.
This type of service might consist
of tasks like interviewing a client
about their past persecution and
filling out a summary for a lawyer
to read, often referred to as doing
"intakes." In a sense, this is an exercise
in both interpreting and translating
simultaneously to yourself! For
example, I ask, listen, and respond
in Spanish, but I summarize and type
in English. (As far as I know, our
profession has not created a term for
this yet.) The team of lawyers will then
follow up through a phone call with
an interpreter on specific aspects of
the client's history. This saves time and
builds capacity for legal services.
One portion of the I-58910, the
application for asylum, asks for the
names and locations of each family

member. Imagine the nightmare of
interpreting the names of 10 siblings
while trying to ensure that the spelling
is correct. This task would be better
performed as part of a direct service.
Another task might involve agreeing
to take a shift on a helpline. When
you answer calls on a helpline, you
enter the required information into a
database, which is then shared with
the administrative team in charge of
finding legal representation. Many
groups around the U.S. also have court
observer programs, Greyhound bus
station arrival programs, and visitation
or letter writing programs to help ease
the emotional toll on asylum seekers
facing lengthy detention. My hat goes
off to those volunteers who also commit
to sponsoring an asylum seeker in their
homes post-release.

A SENSE OF DUTY
When I take time to search, I learn
more about the ways Americans are
working for positive outcomes for
asylum seekers. This knowledge helps
keep me optimistic and balanced after
the barrage of depressing news that
fills my screen each day with respect
to the legal and physical barriers being
American Translators Association

23


http://www.atanet.org

The ATA Chronicle - July/August 2020

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