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Court injustices against Latinos due to language barriers do occur frequently, expert says

By Ingrid Marie Rivera, La Prensa Correspondent

ELYRIA, OH, April 16, 2011: At age 14, Guatemalan teenager Petrona Tomás was sold by her father to a man who abused her. Tomás escaped but while trying to cross the border into the United States, she was raped by her smuggler. She discovers she is pregnant but her baby does not survive during delivery on her bathroom’s floor. Her aunt and brother's girlfriend seek help, and when police arrive to her apartment, they find a pool of blood and a lifeless baby with tissues stuck in its ears and mouth – the tissues was part of a cultural ritual for the deceased as is custom in some villages of Guatemala.

Isabel Framer

But as a native speaker of a Mayan language and unable to speak English or Spanish, she was not able to communicate properly with her Spanish-speaking interpreter. Tomás was wrongly charged with first degree murder of the 2.8 pound premature infant, and was sentenced as an adult to face life imprisonment.

Isabel Framer, the Presidential Appointee to the State Justice Institute Board, came to Tomás’ rescue.

Framer filed a discrimination complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the Dept. of Justice against the Lake Worth Police and Sheriff's departments, and the Palm Beach Circuit Court.

The decision was overturned and Tomás was released after a year and 6 months. Charged as a juvenile, her sentence was lowered to probation. It was determined Tomás did not receive medical nor legal communication in a language she spoke or understood. Today, Tomás is a young woman who was adopted and graduated high school.

“There are a lot of cases like that, from minor to great injustices” because of language barriers and interpreter errors, Framer said “It's not like you hear about them every day but one case is one case too many.”

CHIP’s Annual Leadership Conference

Framer said she hoped to inform and inspire as she spoke to nearly 600 people at the 16th Annual Hispanic/Latino Leadership Conference at the Ramada Inn of Elyria hotel and Lorain County Community College, April 15 and 16, 2011.

The conference was hosted by the Coalition for Hispanic/Latino Issues and Progress (CHIP) and with the help of 64 other organizations and 44 sponsors including La Prensa. CHIP’s president is Joel Arredondo and the event is co-directed by Michael and Dina Ferrer.

Framer has worn multiple hats. For the past 16 years, she has worked as a state court-certified judiciary interpreter for Limited English Proficient persons in the courts, as an advocate and expert witness, and in training and consulting defense attorneys, prosecutors, interpreters, law enforcement, the U.S. Dept. of Justice on language access issues on a national level.

Joanette Romero of CenturyLink

She considers herself an advocate for people who have been denied their civil rights.

Rights that are included in the Title VI, of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that states all persons in federally funded programs should have access to competent language services.

Framer becomes a professional interpreter

But Framer said she never set out to do what she does today.

She is a wife, mother of three daughters and grandmother of four children.

After her youngest daughter began preschool, Framer said she wanted to find part-time work but did not know where.

When her uncle from Ecuador was diagnosed with terminal Cancer, Framer translated at his doctor’s appointments, and there, discovered her passion for interpreting.

Her passion was further fueled when she learned how greatly interpreters are needed, and yet Ohio had few resources and information available for training interpreters.

“I had a mission,” she said.

Framer learned as much as she could about the Federal Statutes governing interpreters and trained out of state. Through her research she said she discovered interpreters must follow a set of court rules and a code of ethics including remaining impartial, never disclosing confidential information and never giving legal advice, yet many interpreters were not following these proper procedures. Framer said many interpreters do not follow the rules: “it’s not because they don’t care, but because they don’t know.”

She learned that to be an efficient interpreter, it is not sufficient to be bilingual but other cognitive skills are needed.

And she stressed being bilingual is a great gift that opens doors.

“There’s so much work available for a bilingual individual,” Framer said “In the future we will need to increase that pool of bilingual individuals in various languages, Spanish and other languages. For our future, it makes our future secure,” Framer said.

In 2010, President Barack Obama appointed her to the State Justice Institute that was created by Federal Law in 1984 to fund courts’ programs. She has served on the Supreme Court of Ohio’s Advisory Committee on Interpreter Services, the Ohio Judicial Appointment Recommendation Panel, and the Racial Fairness Project in Cleveland. She currently serves on the Ohio Commission on Latino Affairs.

Courts are lacking in qualified interpreters

When she first began 11 courts in Ohio had interpreter programs, today there are 40 including the Ohio Supreme Court.

She said there is a great need for interpreters.

“It is extremely critical,” Framer said “To respond to emergency situations whether it’s man-made or natural disasters, you need (interpreters) in the medical (field), you need them in the courts, you need them for the police. I mean you need them for human trafficking cases, domestic violence cases. There is a huge need and it’s really important.”

Co-director Michael Ferrer and CHIP President Joel Arredondo

In another case, Framer had to fight back tears while interpreting for an undocumented immigrant that pleaded with the judge to help him find his wife and children. He never found his wife, and was later told by his attorney his children had been adopted.

“Our system of justice is not a perfect system, but it is a better system than many other countries,” Framer said “however the separation of children from their parents and later to become wards of the state and adopted out – that is not what our country is about,” she said.

And the anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping across the country helps create problems, she said.

“With that sentiment come the groups of people that want to complain and say ‘why don’t people learn to speak English?’ ‘Why do we have to have an interpreter?’ ‘And why are we paying from our taxpayers dollars for this interpreter?’” Framer said.

She added, “A trial cannot be fair when you have people that already have a preconceived notion about the individual before them.”

Framer was finally able to meet Petrona Tomás. Tomás thanked Framer for helping her.

“It’s moments like that, like the one with Petrona that makes every minute, every second of the work that we do so worthwhile,” Framer said “Sometimes we are underpaid, no one knows what we do, but you knowing in your own heart that you have made a difference, that you have created change, that is what keeps me going,” Framer said.


Mike and Dina Ferrer

Mike Ferrer


dave arredondo con esposa

dave flores y hijas y marie leibas

guillermo and andrea arriaga museo lorain

La Prensa's ingrid and nanette nieto

joel arredondo and kenny marrero

lorain mayor tony krasienko

imagenes mexicanas

international queens

lisa gaynier CSU

melissa "cha cha" figueroa and manager

lorain high school cadets

melissa figueroa "cha cha"

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Revised: 10/12/11 20:52:22 -0700.





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