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NETA Testimony on Safe Communities Act

NETA testimony before the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security
Massachusetts State House, Friday, June 9, 2017

My name is Emily Getchell. I am a Spanish-language interpreter, and I am here today as a member of the New England Translators Association, the oldest and largest association of professional translators and interpreters in New England. We are here to express our strong support for the Safe Communities Act.

We have heard ample testimony from doctors, lawyers, social workers, law enforcement officials, and others in favor of this act. I will speak as an interpreter.

As interpreters, our work often places us at the intersection of the institutions of our country and Commonwealth and individuals whose command of the English language is limited but who must navigate these institutions nonetheless. We work in hospitals, clinics, courtrooms and offices, schools, community centers, and juvenile halls. We find ourselves uniquely positioned to take the pulse of the immigrant communities we are privileged to serve.

At this intersection we currently observe palpable signs of fear. Members of immigrant communities too often feel threatened by deportation, if not themselves personally, then family members and friends. Here are just a few examples of what we observe:

Interpreters report an increasing incidence of immigrant patients failing to keep medical appointments because they fear arrest. This is dangerous not only to the patients themselves, but may even pose a public health risk under certain circumstances. 

In community meetings we have heard from immigrants that unscrupulous landlords and employers increasingly use knowledge of their status to extract higher rents or pay them below minimum wage -- if at all. Such corrupt and illegal practices are a natural outcome of the rhetoric and policies that target these communities.

Greater Boston Legal Services has been holding regular housing clinics to help people, often immigrants, to deal with evictions caused by gentrification and rapidly increasing rents that disproportionately affect Latino populations. These clinics had been well attended in the past and interpreters were always on hand to assist. But for the past five weeks Spanish-speaking clients have avoided the clinics for fear that they will be arrested by ICE in housing court. With nothing to do, the interpreters were sent home.

Interpreters have been present as lawyers and social workers struggle to persuade the victims of domestic abuse, rape, and other violent crimes to go to the police. But as the New York Times and other newspapers have recently shown, there have been significant drops in reporting these crimes in Latino communities. This state of affairs is dangerous and cannot possibly be of comfort to the Commonwealth’s law enforcement agencies.

In schools we so plainly see the signs of trauma displayed in the struggles of students whose family members have suddenly disappeared. Their anxiety is overwhelming, their learning is impeded, their education is interrupted. Interpreters sit in on special ed meetings and have been called on to give language support to parents and school officials in situations in which young people have “acted out” on their anxieties by disrupting the classroom.

As a society, we have learned much about the long-term effects of trauma and especially early trauma. We now understand its far-ranging effects on the lives of individuals, families, communities, and, over time, on society at large. This knowledge should guide us in our actions.

Because of the experience of our members, we the New England Translators Association strongly support the Safe Communities Act. We urge you to favorably vote this important piece of legislation out of committee.

Thank you.

Emily Getchell


New England Translators Association

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