The Scales of Justice – Tipped Against Immigrants

JUSTICE--Immigrants across the country are facing what appears to be a swelling tide of xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiment in spite of the fact that we are a nation of immigrants. Thousands risk life and limb to come to this country to seek economic stability, or in fear of their lives from gangs, cartels and/or shady government agencies. The recent tragedy in San Antonio Texas illustrates all too clearly the callous way these human beings are often treated. 


From ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio’s long standing underwear camps to the spike in unreported attacks on immigrant women in the high rises of downtown Los Angeles, these people often find arrival in the United States to be fraught with instability, indignities and terror. 

But immigrant “civilians” aren't the only ones facing this absurd yet very real dichotomy. Once an individual is taken into the justice system, the right to equal treatment under the law is meant to be in play. Certified Court Interpreters are there to ensure this constitutional requirement. However, these interpreters are often immigrants themselves and are subjected to the same unfair, illogical treatment.  

Another example of the short shrift given to immigrants is the fact that immigration courts have not bothered to require that the interpreters have the knowledge and the skills necessary to ensure an accurate interpretation by insisting that they be certified. 

In California, the court interpreters are part of the California Federation of Interpreters, a collective bargaining unit of the Communication Workers of America (CWA). The contract that covers the Northern California courts expired in September. This past Friday, interpreters walked off the job in San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa and Marin counties and took their grievance for fair pay and benefits to the steps of the Judicial Council. You can find out more about that here. (No.Cal. Interpreters walk out).   

Here in Los Angeles, the union negotiating committee is preparing for contract negotiations beginning Monday. According to committee member, Eric Valdez, “In Court Interpreter Employee/employer contract negotiations, interpreters are constantly treated like their services are easily replaceable or even unnecessary. The truth is their services are guaranteed, to anyone who needs them, by the constitution. They are treated like their credentials mean nothing, when actually, attaining certification is no easy matter- the passing rate for the certification exam is lower than for the bar exam for lawyers.” 

Valdez went on to say that “Even though many interpreters are full-time employees with the courts, they are denied job benefits and guarantees that other court employees have had for years, and in fact they have not had a fair raise in years; not even "cost of living" raises. Some believe it is because a great part of the interpreter work-force is made up of immigrants.” 

Several Certified Court Interpreters have indicated they are becoming aware of this injustice perpetrated by representatives of the Courts who are supposed to embody fairness and equal treatment under the law. 

And more and more immigrants around the nation are also becoming aware of the unfairness that is born out of the xenophobia engendered by anti-immigration policies, and are beginning to stand up and speak out. 

Will you?

(Jennifer Caldwell is an active member of SAG-AFTRA, serving on several committees. She is a published author and is a featured contributor to CityWatch. Contact her at or visit