Translation and immigration – Turning translators into immigration officers by eliminating them.

On the 14th of September 2010, reported a new unlikely role  for translations in North Carolina Mecklenburg County as recommended by Commissioner Bill James.


A leaked internal e-mail revealed Mr. James opposition to the funding of the - legally mandatory - translators for people seeking assistance at the Department of Social Services (DSS) on the ground that most non-English speakers turning to the DSS for help are illegal immigrants, though he did not volunteer documented sources for that assertion.


County Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts quickly sent a scathing reply underlining Mt. James need to get better acquainted with immigration laws.


Without as much as granting a glance at the immigration laws, one cannot help but wondering at Mr. James’ suggestion.


He seems to forget that one of the corner stone of democracy is the presumption of innocence. To bluntly state that the majority of not English speakers seeking DSS assistance are illegal is in fact a reversal of that presumption of innocence.


Anybody who had ever been – legally or not - traveling in a foreign country where the language is other than his own and had to fill in forms in that country knows how difficult it might be to fill in forms in a foreign language.


The DSS is required by law to provide translators to ease the process for non-English speakers, a clear sign that the law has identified the value of translation services, especially for a population with a low level of education. Without a professional translator to help him navigate the administrative maze, the non-English speaking applicant is almost sure to drift forever in the foggy marsh of incomprehensible forms and founder on unintelligible administrative requirements.


Though his idea of solving the immigration problem by denying translators to those entitled to them is outlandish idea, it does however indicate that Mr. James has understood the real value of a professional translator.


As, with the growing industry of free or automated translation services, the value of a professional translator has been seriously eroded, we, as professional translators, would like to thank Mr. James for recognizing that, without us, the world where lives are lived in another language is beyond your grasp.