RACINE COUNTY — During the past couple years, the demand for a variety of court interpreters has been increasing in Racine County courtrooms.
As populations change, so do the languages that Racine County residents speak.
Recently the language in greatest demand forskilled interpreters is Spanish, according to a breakdown of hours submitted by court interpreters providing services in Racine County court cases. Of the 23 types of court interpreters utilized in Racine County since 2011, Spanish interpreters far outstrip any other, according to Wisconsin Director of State Courts Office records.
“There is no question the need for interpreters has increased. Primarily Spanish interpreters,” Racine County Circuit Court Judge Charles Constantine said.
For the first six months of 2013, 1,061.5 hours have been logged in Racine County courts by Spanish-speaking court interpreters, according to State Courts Office records. That’s 91 percent of the total hours logged during that time.
During 2012, Spanish-speaking court interpreters logged 1,747 hours interpreting in Racine County courts. However, that was a decrease from 2011, when 2,691.75 hours were spent by Spanish-speaking interpreters, State Courts Office records show.
More than Spanish
Fourteen different languages were used in Racine County courts in the first half of this year, up from 13 in 2012 and 11 in 2011.
“I’ve had Farsi,” Constantine said.
While Spanish is the most-requested language for court interpreters, Sam Christensen, administrative deputy clerk for the Racine County Clerk of Courts office, said other recent requests include: Arabic, American Sign Language, Gujarati, Burmese, Hindi, Portuguese, Tagalog, Russian, Korean, Serbian and Vietnamese.
“That’s just for the last couple of months,” Christensen said last month. “Whether you’re innocent or guilty, you have the right to understand the court process.”
Aside from Spanish, four other languages have been top demands in Racine County during the first six months of 2013. Those are Portuguese, with 15 court interpreter hours; Polish, with 14.25 court interpreter hours; Korean, with 13.5 hours; and Urdu, with 10.75 hours, according to Wisconsin Director of State Courts Office records. Coming in sixth is Russian, with 10.5 court interpreter hours, records show.
“The issue becomes when you talk about access to the court system,” Constantine said. That’s not just in criminal court, but small claims and divorce, to name a few. “You have to give them the ability to communicate what their position is ... it’s (for) the victims, as well” in criminal court.
Constantine offered another reason for the increased demand for court interpreters in Racine County.
“I think there’s a certain heightened awareness among lawyers (of the need for interpreters),” he said. “When you think about it, legal concepts — even when you speak English — can be complicated.”
Need for services
Certified Spanish interpreter Nancy Stone of Racine estimated that about 60 percent of her court interpreting work is actually performed in a courtroom. The rest is in lawyers’ offices or during jail visits with an attorney’s client.
Before moving to Racine County in 2005, Stone worked in Minnesota. And interpreters in different languages are in greater demand than others based on the region, she explained. The top languages for which court interpreters were needed there, she said, were Spanish, Hmong, Somali and Oromo — the latter of which were attributed to the number of refugees who moved into the Minneapolis area from Somalia and Ethiopia.
When she works in U.S. District Court in Chicago, the top three languages in demand are Spanish, Polish and Arabic, Stone explained.
Even when the language is similar, the people can come from different countries.
In Minneapolis, Spanish-speaking court interpreters worked with people from Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador and Peru. In southeast Wisconsin, there are a wide variety of dialects, Stone said. Those in need of Spanish-speaking interpreters here typically are from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
But just because court interpreters are needed, she said, doesn’t mean the person is in the U.S. illegally.
“Puerto Ricans and Cubans are of legal status here. Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. Cubans here have a legal status. The minute they put their foot on U.S. (soil) they are legal,” Stone said. “I’ve interpreted for many people who have residency who don’t speak enough English to feel comfortable in court. It’s very different to sit in an office and speak with an attorney than sit up on the stand. (The person) may not have a sufficient command (of the language) and a person’s right to understand the proceedings is guaranteed in our Constitution.
“We are here for witnesses to come in to tell the story, victims of crime, for juveniles,” Stone said. “They want to get a divorce. (They are in) small claims court. My job isn’t just coming into court and interpreting for a person charged with a horrible crime.”
MOST FREQUENTLY USED LANGUAGES
For the first six months of 2013, interpreters in 58 languages, including American Sign Language, have been utilized in Wisconsin courts, according to Carmel A. Capati, a lawyer and manager of the Wisconsin Court Interpreter Program.
The top five are Spanish, at 81.5 percent; American Sign Language, at 5 percent; Hmong, at 4 percent; Arabic, at 3 percent; and Russian, at 1 percent. The remaining 53 languages make up less than 1 percent each of Wisconsin’s court interpreter needs, according to Capati.
Racine’s increasing Hispanic/Latino population
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 195,408 people were living in Racine County in 2010.
Of those, 22,546 identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino. They represented 11.5 percent of Racine County’s population, census figures show. Of those, 18,654 people identified themselves as Mexican, 1,743 as Puerto Rican, 112 as Cuban and 2,037 as of some “other” Hispanic or Latino origin.
Of the 188,831 people living in Racine County in 2000, 14,990 identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino, according to census figures. They represented 7.9 percent of Racine County’s population, according to census data. Of those, 11,495 identified themselves as Mexican, 981 as Puerto Rican, 95 as Cuban and 2,419 as “other” Hispanic or Latino.
Racine County’s 2012 population estimate showed the number of residents decreased to 194,797. And of those, 12.0 percent listed themselves as Hispanic or Latino, census bureau data show.