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May 2011

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Interpreting: An Every-Day Event in Federal Courts

The number of language interpreting events provided by the federal courts in proceedings initiated by the government continues to climb. In fiscal year 2010, the 94 district courts reported a 13.8 percent increase in interpreting events over the previous 12-month period.

(click to enlarge)

Federal Court Interpreting Events, by District During the 12-Month Period Ending September 30, 2010

The district courts collectively used interpreters in 349,442 events in FY 2010. That total does not include separate interpreting events in probation and pretrial services offices nationwide.

Spanish remained the most-used language for interpreters in the courts by far, accounting for 96.6 percent of all reported events. The number of Spanish events increased to 337,740, due in part to a spike in immigration-related cases in five districts along the southwest border.

Those five districts—Texas Southern, Texas Western, Arizona, California Southern, and New Mexico—accounted for 244,886 Spanish-language interpreting events in FY 2010.

In all, interpreters for 120 different languages were requested across all events. After Spanish, the most requested interpreting services were for Mandarin (1,524), Russian (924), Cantonese (775), Vietnamese (716), Haitian Creole (612), Mixteco Bajo (576), Arabic (543), Portugese (525), and Korean (449).

The increase in immigration-related cases also seemed to play a big part in how interpreting events played out geographically. The Fifth Judicial Circuit, comprised of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, reported the highest total of interpreting events—124,847. A whopping 99.5 percent of those were in Spanish. The sprawling Ninth Judicial Circuit, comprised of nine western states that include California and Arizona, reported 123,623 interpreting events, 97 percent of them in Spanish.

Five Busiest Districts

FY 2010 Interpreting Events in the Southwest Border Courts

Texas Southern 79,187 78,794
Texas Western 43,729 43,661
Arizona 79,914 78,960
California Southern 24,553 24,290
New Mexico 19,330 19,181
5-District Totals 246,713 244,886

To help meet the growing demand, the federal Judiciary now employs 95 staff interpreters of Spanish. (They, and hundreds of non-employees, have met the high standards to be certified as court interpreters. The Judiciary offers certification every other year in Spanish.)

The Judiciary’s Telephone Interpreting Program (TIP) continued to grow, providing remote interpretation services in short proceedings where certified or otherwise qualified court interpreters are not locally available.

TIP saved an estimated $1.1 million in interpreter travel and contract costs in FY 2010. More importantly, the program ensured that qualified interpreters were available for defendants in court proceedings by providing services in 39 different languages and 3,613 events. Spanish was used in 92 percent of those events.

Court interpreters are provided by the federal courts when needed in criminal cases and civil cases in which the United States is the plaintiff.