Liberian Couple Struggles with Language Barriers in Court

Language barriers remain one of the most significant issues in U.S. immigration services, as seen recently in the case of a Liberian couple caught up in the justice system in Arizona.

The couple is unable to enter into a plea agreement due to their inability to grasp the serious charges they face, which relate to child abuse allegedly discovered when authorities were investigating the much-publicized sexual assault of their 8-year-old daughter at the hands of other children in 2009, the Arizona Republic reported. While Spanish-English interpreters have been widely used in the state for a variety of hearings, the Maricopa County Superior Court has not been able to find any interpreter able to adequately explain the charges and court processes in the couple’s language.

One interpreter, who was found in Minnesota, stated that the tribal Liberian culture and language of the couple does not provide an adequate framework for explaining certain American legal concepts, according to the source. For example, when a court judge asked the mother to seek a psychological evaluation, the woman shouted that she was not sick, and when asked to state their names, the couple responded that they have no other names.

In light of such deep language issues, the couple was recently given 45 additional days to prepare for their next court appearance, the source stated.

This is only one of many cases involving immigrants in which language obstacles have created problems. Since 2010, Jamaican man Derrick Cotterel has been struggling to communicate with the York County, Pennsylvania, judicial system due to his thick Jamaican Creole and severe stutter, according to The Associated Press. Cotterel is also unable to read or write. Having only an expired U.S. visa, Cotterel is unable to receive legal counsel due to immigration policies stating that detainees do not have the right to free counsel.

In an effort to more appropriately provide services for immigrants, New York State is providing versions of its governmental documents, as well as live interpreters, in six languages.