Although I am wrapping up my time with Taller de Jose after almost three years, I am still seeing new types of cases regularly. For the first time ever, I found out I was going to be interpreting at an asylum interview. Apart from this being one of the most difficult types of cases to interpret for, I did not know until I met the client that they had come from many states away to meet with me and that immediately following the intake we would be going downtown to the asylum office. This interview was the final step in the process of deciding if Juan* would be receiving asylum in the United States. Along with that, my interpretations were going to be monitored by a phone interpretation service during the interview. That meant that if any small detail is missed I would be corrected. The pressure was on.
I went downstairs to meet the client and saw two boys in the waiting room. Juan* is a young man from Central America. His brother, Josue* accompanied him to the appointment to speak as a witness because he himself gained asylum recently. Josue escaped the abusive household and dangerous neighborhood where the two of them grew up. So, in essence, Juan was working to gain asylum on similar grounds as his brother.
Once we got downtown, we entered into a small office. It was the immigration official sitting behind a desk, Juan, his lawyer who also travelled from afar, and me. Juan cried at a number of points in the interview, and each time the official asked a question in English, Juan would just look right at me waiting for my response. I wanted to comfort him and talk him through it, but I also had to remember that my role was just to be interpreting. In order for the immigration official to get all of the information that he needed, he was asking similar questions various times but just worded differently. You can imagine how stressful this is to recall being attacked repeatedly by a family member and not feeling protected by your own country. But there was something really incredible about this experience; everyone was very patient, understanding, and accommodating. The official was very kind and gentle towards Juan. His lawyer was a lovely woman who worked with Catholic Charities which is how she knew to refer the client to us, and Josue was very attentive towards his brother to ensure his wellbeing as he recounted these traumatic experiences. When Josue was invited into the interview, I got the impression that he felt the responsibility to be his brother’s protector.
At the end of the interview, the immigration office was very encouraging in letting Juan and Josue know that the case is very strong. It will still be a few months until Juan knows the decision of his case, but that day itself was an incredible experience. I feel so blessed to have witnessed teamwork among all of us as strangers to help support Juan on this difficult interview.
*Names and details have been changed to protect client’s identity.