- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

Maryland and Virginia court officials say their budgets for Spanish-language interpreters have increased about 10 percent annually over the past decade as more immigrants and illegal aliens have settled in the area.

Virginia officials added nine freelance, Spanish-language interpreters in fiscal 2005, which brought its total to 113 and cost $3.42 million — a 12.3 percent budget increase over fiscal 2004.

The state’s fiscal 2005 budget for the entire courts system was $269.9 million, which covered 2,568 employees but did not include substitute judges, circuit court clerks or wage employees.

Maryland contracted the services of 350 interpreters, about 45 percent of them Spanish speaking, at a cost of $1.75 million in fiscal 2005 and has budgeted more than $2 million for interpreters in fiscal 2006. The state court system in fiscal 2005 had a $311.2 million budget and employed about 4,700 judges, contractors and full- and part-time employees.

The District reduced its contracting costs in fiscal 2005 for its federally funded interpreter program — from $650,000 to $450,000.

However, the reduction was the result of the system adding more Spanish-language interpreters to its staff. The system now has about 200 interpreters proficient in 56 languages.

About $82.4 million of the D.C. court system’s $133.5 million operating budget in fiscal 2005 went to about 1,160 employees.

Hispanics represent 40 percent of the 1 million immigrants and illegal aliens in the region, and their population has doubled within the last decade, the District-based Urban Institute reports.

Court officials say the demand for interpreters is quickly outpacing the supply.

“There’s really just a deficit in instructing people in attaining the skills needed to become an interpreter,” said Linda Etzold, who helps oversee Maryland’s court-interpreting program. “There’s a desperate need for it. But the community colleges, which I think would be a really good place to start, have no interpreting courses.”

Xiomara Iglesias — a certified Spanish interpreter working on the high-profile retrial of Adan Canela and Policarpio Espinoza Perez, two Mexican illegal aliens accused of nearly beheading three young relatives two years ago in Baltimore — said she has seen a marked increase in the demand for Spanish interpreters in the region over the past two years.

Mrs. Iglesias, who was born in Central America, said the demand may be attributed in part to the diminished need to learn English.

“Nowadays you have Spanish radio, Spanish TV, newspapers …,” said Mrs. Iglesias, 37, of Silver Spring.

Interpreters must exactly interpret each word, phrase, question, utterance, objection and slang expression spoken in English or Spanish.

Inside the courtrooms, they quietly interpret into Spanish for defendants and their families the exchanges between attorneys and witnesses, which are often long and fiery.

They also “become” the immigrant witness during cross-examination, first interpreting into Spanish the attorneys’ question. The interpreter then answers in the first person in English, imitating the witness’s every pause, stutter and voice intonation to indicate such emotions as irritation, sadness and confusion.

Virginia interpreters served 54,090 persons last year, while D.C. interpreters handled 7,661 cases. Maryland statistics were not available.

Miss Etzold said overall demand increased in Maryland in 2003 when the state began to pay for interpreters for civil and juvenile cases, in addition to criminal cases. And until 2001, individual county circuit courts in Maryland paid their own interpreter costs.

The state legislatures control the budgets for interpreters in Maryland and Virginia. The Maryland General Assembly has granted Miss Etzold’s office’s request to increase interpreter funding by 10 percent to 15 percent annually for the past decade.

The money, she said, isn’t enough to compete with the wages paid by Virginia courts and private companies.

According to the Consortium for State Court Interpreters, which regulates interpreting standards in 33 states, Virginia interpreters, depending on certification and skill, earn $35 to $85 an hour and as much as $500 per day — the highest in the region. The difference in wage may explain why Virginia has fewer interpreters but a higher payout, officials say.

Maryland court interpreters earn $35 to $50 an hour, with no daily option. Interpreters in the District, which is not a consortium member, earn $329 per full day or $178 per half-day.

“Unfortunately, a really good interpreter … could make more money working in private industry or for the state department, so we’re really up against the wall there,” Miss Etzold said.

Interpreters say adult immigrants are more likely to request interpreters than juveniles, who tend to be bilingual. Some predict that the need for interpreters will decrease over the next decade as these children age and give birth to another bilingual generation.

But as the region’s Asian population swells past 32 percent of all immigrants, court officials report difficulty in finding interpreters fluent in Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin and several Indian dialects.

Maryland officials say finding an interpreter for those languages can take weeks or even months.

D.C. officials say they are able to provide interpreters for less-commonly known African languages, such as Eritrea’s Tigrinya, only about 80 percent of the time. About 15 percent of District-area immigrants are from Africa and the Middle East.

Mrs. Iglesias said she sympathizes with immigrants and illegal aliens who cannot speak English but understands critics who are pushing for immigrants to learn English and measures to cut down on costs that accommodate them.

“Without interpreters, there is bound to be miscommunication,” she said. “Problems wouldn’t get resolved, people wouldn’t be able to get the right information. When you’re an adult and you go to a different country, it’s just really difficult to learn another language especially when you have to work one or two jobs. [Still] I think people definitely need to learn English because if they’re trying to assimilate into the new culture, learning English is part of that. I think that unfortunately [interpreters] have to do what’s required to be done at the moment.”

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