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Hawaii addresses shortage of court interpreters for migrants

July 26, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii faces a growing challenge: finding people who can translate court hearings as the number of migrants from Pacific Island countries climbs.

Officials say the state has a limited pool of court interpreters, and they often must travel between the islands for proceedings, creating logistical challenges.

The migrants come to Hawaii under an agreement with the U.S. government. The Compact of Free Association lets citizens from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau live and work freely in the United States in exchange for allowing the U.S. military to control strategic land and water areas in the region.

“The Pacific island languages are a really hard one,” said Debi Tulang-De Silva, program director of the state Judiciary’s Office on Equality and Access to the Courts.

So far, no cases have been derailed because of the shortage. According to the state’s court system, in 2008 about 6,800 cases required interpreting services, and that figured jumped to nearly 7,700 in 2012. There were more than 8,100 interpreted proceedings in 2013, the most recent year complete data are available.

Marshallese is the third most frequently requested language, after Chuukese, spoken by those in Micronesia’s Chuuk state, and Ilocano, a Filipino language, Tulang-De Silva said.

About 15,000 people in Hawaii speak Chuukese, said Robin Fritz, foreign service officer for the Federated States of Micronesia Consulate in Honolulu. The Republic of Marshall Islands Consulate in Honolulu estimates 3,000 to 4,000 people in Hawaii speak Marshallese.

There are nine Chuukese interpreters statewide, Tulang De-Silva said. There are six Marshallese interpreters.

One way the court system ensures interpreters are available is by holding “international day,” designated days of the month when those needing interpreters are scheduled, allowing interpreters to be used for multiple cases.

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