As the amount of immigrants to the United States has increased since 2006, so too has the need for courtroom translators for defendants that do not speak English as a first language. In 2006, there were 5,177 hearings in Minnesota that required an interpreter. In 2010, there were 30,009 – many of them criminal defense hearings. According to one district judge, an unwitting admission of guilt due to a language barrier can send innocent people to jail, possibly opening the door for deportation.
A survey performed in 2010 found that, in the state of Minnesota alone, there were over 120 languages spoken, including sign language. Additionally, the survey found that one out of ten people living in Minnesota resided in a home where English was not spoken.
Last year, $1.9 million in taxpayer money was spent to supply courts with interpreters in Minnesota, but many judges estimate that the cost of delays in proceedings still occurs while an interpreter is found – and the bill would have been much higher without the interpreters courts had available. To further cut costs, counties regularly develop shared programs to employ full time interpreters across the state or contract agencies for their interpreting services.
While translators for languages like Spanish will always be in high demand throughout the country, Minnesota has also experienced a marked increase in the need for translators of languages like Hmong and Somali. Currently, 1,300 interpreters translating 100 different languages are employed by the Minnesota justice system.
Source: Star Tribune, “Judge: Justice must come in many languages,” Joy Powell, Sept. 24, 2011