Rachel Nolan writes in the New Yorker magazine about the grassroots group of interpreters who are often the only hope for migrants who speak Mayan languages.
“The U.S. government claims to provide proper translation at all points in the immigration process, but, in practice, it rarely offers Mayan-language translation at the border or in holding cells. […] Until just a few years ago, there was a tendency to treat Mayan languages as “dialects.” A former immigration judge told me that all her Mayan-language cases, when they came from Customs and Border Protection, were “listed on the court docket as Spanish.” When Mayan-language asylum seekers can manage some Spanish, it is often not enough to navigate credible-fear interviews—in which migrants must explain why they are afraid of returning to their home countries.”
The writer goes on to state that, “Interpreters told me that racism and even violent discrimination are such ingrained features of Guatemalan life that some Mayan asylum seekers don’t think to mention them in credible-fear interviews. They have plenty of other reasons to flee: gangs, death squads, domestic violence and femicide, disillusionment with a series of corrupt Presidents, and climate change, […] a spiritual as well as an environmental crisis. Guatemalans confound the distinction between ‘economic migrants’ and the types of persecution that the U.S. requires to grant asylum”.
It is not unusual to hear of stories where indigenous peoples in Guatemala suffer when confronting the state in any form, because of official indifference to their language.This article highlights the increased challenges for indigenous peoples when applying for asylum in the United States.
You can read the full article, or listen to it, here, in the New Yorker magazine.