Language Access in Immigration Court: Guatemalan Indigenous Languages


indigenous languages
immigration court


The number of immigrants[1] in the United States who has court hearings with the Executive Office of Immigration Review ("immigration court") has increased, resulting in a backlog. As immigration judges (I.J.s) determine whether an immigrant is removable and/or will be permitted to stay in the United States, due process requires an interpreter in the immigrant’s best language.

            A pressing issue immigration courts across the nation face is providing interpreters for indigenous languages. For Guatemalan indigenous language speakers, this is particularly important because of the number of indigenous languages recognized by the Guatemalan government and because of the number of Guatemalans who have immigration court. The number of immigrants in immigration court whose best language is an indigenous language is increasing. Despite this increase, it is difficult to find interpreters.

This paper examines the lack of interpreters for Guatemalan indigenous languages, the rise of the need for interpreters, and provides an overview of the immigration court’s obligation to provide an interpreter for immigrants. This paper concludes by arguing that the Department of Justice develop a plan that there are sufficient interpreters for Guatemalan indigenous language speakers.


[1] I use “immigrant” to refer to any foreign-born non-U.S. citizen or national. The term “immigrant” has a specific meaning in immigration law, but for purposes of social science, a “nonimmigrant” may be considered an immigrant. See Loue (2003).
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Copyright (c) 2022 Matthew Boles


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