Jailed Jamaican Man Cannot Communicate at Immigration Proceedings

A 42-year-old Jamaican man has been incarcerated for more than a year, as his bid for political asylum has been complicated by his inability to communicate at court hearings.

The man, Derrick Cotterel, supported himself in the United States by picking fruit and working as a fisherman for a decade before a dispute with an employer resulted in robbery charges, The Associated Press reported. After his arrest, Cotterel’s expired U.S. visa landed him in a York County, Pennsylvania, jail.

Since July 2010, Cotterel has struggled to communicate with judges at bail and political asylum hearings, according to the AP. Cotterel speaks in a thick Jamaican patois, suffers from a severe stutter and cannot read or write.

After enlisting two Jamaican inmates from the York jail to act as translators, Judge Andrew Arthur determined that Cotterel fears returning to Jamaica because his brother was murdered for his political affiliations, the source reported. Arthur denied the bid for asylum, stating that the threat of political violence did not seem great enough to warrant it, but because of doubts as to whether “proper accommodation” had been made for Cotterel’s speech impairment, the judge certified an appeal.

According to the AP, Cotterel has not been able to afford legal counsel, and immigration detainees do not have the right to free counsel.

“The need for legal services in the immigration detention system far outweighs the capacity of nonprofit legal services organizations,” Angela Eveler, director of the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center in York, told the source. “It has become a legal and humanitarian crisis.”

Recognizing that language barriers often prevent immigrants from obtaining municipal services and complicates their interactions with the justice system, certain cities and states have taken steps recently to alleviate the problem. New York state recently announced it will provide translated government documents and staff state agencies with interpreters fluent in six languages. An initiative in Dayton, Ohio, has called for interpreters at hospitals and at social service and law enforcement agencies.