Asylum lawsuit alleges translation shortfall

A lawsuit filed on behalf of a Cameroonian asylum seeker detained in Los Fresnos alleges the man was not provided access to a translator in a language he understood during a credible fear interview and a subsequent review hearing before an immigration judge.

M.P.C., who arrived at a port of entry late last year, allegedly learned from a fellow detainee who reviewed his case notes that communications with both the asylum officer who conducted his credible fear interview and an immigration judge had been incorrectly translated.

“He was aghast that the notes indicate he did not know his date of birth, and even more so at the indication in the notes that he did not know the names of his children (names, which incidentally, appear on the Credible Fear Worksheet),” his attorney wrote.

M.P.C. speaks Akum and has a “reasonable good command” of pidgin English and some command of French. He can sign his name, but is not literate in any language, according to the complaint.

The man was interviewed by an asylum officer on Jan. 2 and was provided with a French interpreter. M.P.C.’s attorney stated the officer’s notes “seem to indicate the interpreter was on the line before [M.P.C.] was asked if he was comfortable doing the interview in French.”

The attorney cited documents describing repression by the Francophone government of current president Paul Biya, elected in 1982, which sparked “increasingly organized opposition” in Cameroon that eventually evolved into armed conflict between militias advocating for a separate Anglophone state.

According to the document, Cameroon has two official languages – French and English. “Very few speak both languages with any degree of fluency; some speak neither.”

“Given the situation in Cameroon, one would not assume a person seeking refuge from Cameroon would be Francophone.”

The man was informed of a negative finding of fear on Jan. 7, in Spanish, and his case was referred to an immigration judge for review. “Mr. Chi will testify that he does not speak Spanish,” the lawsuit stated.

M.P.C.’s case was reviewed by Assistant Chief Immigration Judge Hugo R. Martinez until January 31, with a French interpreter. According to U.S. law, a prompt review of an asylum request by an immigration judge must be completed within 24 hours, “but in no case later than 7 days after the date of the determination.

According to the lawsuit, M.P.C. did not understand Martinez’s decision to uphold the asylum officer’s findings. His attorney wrote there is “no indication” her client was asked during his fear interview whether he preferred to use English.

“The use of French in the interview resulted in miscommunication and misunderstanding. We do not know how extensive, since no recordings are made available.”