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Department of Homeland Security Is Ill-Equipped to Protect the Lives of Indigenous Immigrants
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=45531"><span class="small">Rebekah Entralgo, ThinkProgress</span></a>   
Friday, 22 February 2019 09:11

Entralgo writes: "The language barriers between officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and indigenous immigrant and asylum seekers have life-or-death consequences, according to a new report released by the Center for American Progress."

Central American immigrants walk along the border fence after crossing the Rio Grande river. (photo: John Moore/Getty)
Central American immigrants walk along the border fence after crossing the Rio Grande river. (photo: John Moore/Getty)


Department of Homeland Security Is Ill-Equipped to Protect the Lives of Indigenous Immigrants

By Rebekah Entralgo, ThinkProgress

22 February 19


Many immigrants arriving at the Southern Border speak neither English nor Spanish.

he language barriers between officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and indigenous immigrant and asylum seekers have life-or-death consequences, according to a new report released by the Center for American Progress.

The CAP report was conducted in response to the deaths of Maya children in the custody of the Customs and Border Protection agency. Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old girl from Guatemala, of Maya Q’eqchi’ descent, died of severe dehydration in CBP custody in December; Felipe Gomez Alonzo, an 8-year-old boy Guatemalan boy of Maya Chuj descent, died of the flu in a New Mexico hospital on Christmas Eve, also while in CBP custody. Neither children spoke English or Spanish; rather, they were speakers of the indigenous languages K’iche and Chuj, respectively.

ThinkProgress is an editorially independent newsroom housed at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

DHS comes into contact with the broadest range of foreign-language speakers of any federal agency. In spite of this, the agency regularly fails to provide real-time interpretation for indigenous immigrants who need to communicate their needs to border agents. The report emphasizes that access to language is a core civil right outlined in a 1973 Supreme Court case that expanded the definition of what constitutes discrimination based on national origin.

Each agency is responsible for ensuring that everyone will have access to its programs, services, activities, and benefits. CBP, however, hadn’t even finalized its language plan until 2016, ultimately adopting a policy used by DHS which stipulated that the agency will commit to make “reasonable efforts to provide meaningful access to individuals with limited English proficiency.”

But the agency’s “reasonable efforts” have proven to be inadequate. For example, DHS has failed to increase the number of available indigenous language-speaking agents and interpreters in reasonable proportion to the overall increase in asylum-seeking immigrants from countries from which such speakers hail, like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. When DHS was first formed in the early 2000s, the vast majority of immigrants crossing the border were adult males from Mexico who left their families behind to work in the United States and send money back to Mexico.

That demographic, however, has shifted dramatically. In 2007, the number of immigrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border from the Northern Triangle countries — the colloquial name given to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras — was only 7 percent. By 2017, migrants from that region made up more than half of all the agency’s apprehensions.

The report details the confusing work-arounds that DHS and CBP have employed in order to secure an indigenous interpreter.

“While DHS and CBP have contracted with a number of vendors of telephonic interpretation services, interpreters for little-spoken indigenous languages may not be available without several hours’ advance notice. When interpreters are secured, it may emerge that their dialect is too different from the migrant’s to enable meaningful communication. Or they may only be bilingual between the migrant’s language and Spanish, requiring three-way interpretation—for example, Chuj to Spanish, Spanish to English, and back again. This may mean that the Border Patrol has to find an agent who is fluent in both Spanish and English.”

Indigenous individuals come into contact with DHS officers at almost every stage of the immigration process. Such immigrants are frequently marginalized and discriminated against in their countries of origin, and more often than not feel as if they’ve no right to speak up on their own behalf. In these cases, having the opportunity and the ability to clearly communicate their needs to immigration officials, and to have these communications understood, is an essential lifeline.

This is especially important considering the first stop for many of these immigrants, once they find themselves in the United States are CBP holding cells nicknamed “hierlas,” or “iceboxes.” Immigrants are unlikely to receive medical attention in either CBP hierlas or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers unless they have the ability to advocate for themselves.

“According to a recent study published by the Center for Migration Studies, of deported migrants surveyed, more than 1 in 3 who needed and requested medical care were denied it,” the report notes. “Of survey respondents, indigenous-language speakers reported receiving medical care in Border Patrol custody at just two-thirds the rate of other detainees—a conservative finding since surveys were conducted only in English and Spanish and not with monolingual speakers of indigenous languages.”

In the report, CAP recommends that CBP use its extremely large budget to create a dedicated indigenous-languages interpretation facility, either inside DHS or through an effective external source. It further recommends that the agency proactively take medical assessments of all immigrants as they enter CBP custody. Up until the death of Felipe Gómez Alonzo, most CBP agents only screened immigrants who either appeared to need medical attention or were vocal about their illnesses.

Indigenous activists have been vocal about the struggles their communities face while in federal custody. In late January, local tribe leaders held a vigil in Washington, D.C. for Jakelin, Felipe, and all other indigenous migrants who have died at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“This struggle…has affected us for more than 500 years,” Juanita Cabrera Lopez, Executive Director of the International Mayan League, told ThinkProgress. “And Indigenous peoples have been the most invisible.”

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+2 # dotlady 2019-02-22 10:54
Needed - volunteer interpreters in these languages needed just south of the US border in Mexico!
 
 
+3 # chrisconno 2019-02-22 11:07
How do we live with our ugly selves? That children are being separated from their parents and keep like dogs in cages is unconscionable. There are so many abuses visited upon immigrants by we the 'good christian nation' it is nauseating. I'm beginning to think the only good republican is a jailed republican.