Colorado Courts Cope With [Foreign] Language Explosion

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Article date: 
6 July 2014
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Colorado News
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Prosecutors had nearly wrapped up their case against a man accused of robbing six Iraqi immigrants in Aurora when the judge announced that the pair of Arabic interpreters assigned to the case was needed in another courtroom. Without an interpreter, the sixth Iraqi would not get to tell his story.

“It was just absurd to me that that was a possibility in this case,” Deputy District Attorney Kyle McCarthy said. “Luckily, in large part thanks to the interpreters realizing that this was an important trial for them to be at, they rearranged their schedule.”

It’s a national issue, with courts in Alaska seeking Hmong interpreters, or in New Mexico seeking Arabic. In some states, courts collaborate with other institutions – hospitals, schools, social service agencies – to ensure they cover the languages they need.

In 1960, only about a third of U.S. states had populations that were 5 percent or more foreign-born. By 2010, two-thirds of the states had populations more than 5 percent foreign-born. The U.S. Census Bureau says foreign-born people represent about 1 in 20 Americans.

Emy Lopez [head of the court language office]  said that not so long ago, her staff of interpreters and translators for Colorado state courts handled about 50 languages ... Lopez said the increase is caused in part by changes enacted in 2011 that require interpreters be available for civil as well as criminal cases.

Spending for Lopez’s Office of Language Access increased from just over $2 million in 2003 to just over $4 million in 2013 ...