U.S. appeals court: “Pidgin” English speaker from Cameroon has right to interpreter – 3rd Circ.

  • Court revived asylum bid by “Pidgin” English speaker from Cameroon
  • Much of his testimony at hearing was “indiscernible”

Reuters | Immigration judges must determine whether individuals facing deportation who speak dialects of English also understand American English or need interpreters, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Wednesday in a case involving a citizen of Cameroon who speaks “Pidgin” English.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it was unfair for an immigration judge to deny asylum to B.C. after it became clear that he lacked a grasp on standard English, evidenced by 36 separate times that a court reporter recorded his testimony as “indiscernible.”

The judge’s failure to seek out an interpreter for B.C. deprived him of the opportunity to make arguments on his behalf, the 3rd Circuit said, and led the judge to conclude unreasonably that B.C.’s testimony was inconsistent.

Sozi Tulante of Dechert, who argued the appeal for B.C., said in a statement that the facts of the case are not unique, and he hoped the ruling would result in greater due process in immigration proceedings.

“These failures resulted in a fundamentally unfair proceeding in which (B.C.) could not fully participate or advocate for himself in Pidgin English, his best language,” Tulante said.

The petitioner is also represented by the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center and nonprofit Justice at Work.

B.C. was backed in the appeal by a coalition of advocacy groups that said in a 2020 amicus brief that the case was an example of the widespread lack of language access in immigrant detention facilities that raises serious due process concerns.

According to the decision, speakers of Pidgin English like B.C. are considered “Anglophones” in Cameroon, a predominantly French-speaking country, and are ostracized and persecuted. Pidgin is derived from standard English but has evolved into a distinct language.

B.C. was detained after fleeing to the U.S. in 2018 and applied for asylum and withholding of removal. He claimed that as a politically active Pidgin speaker, he would face persecution if he were deported.

At his first appearance before an immigration judge, B.C.’s records erroneously showed him as a citizen of Guatemala and the only available interpreter spoke Spanish, according to the decision.

When he told the judge he was from Cameroon, the judge asked only whether he needed a French interpreter or was “okay with English.” B.C., who did not have a lawyer, said he was comfortable proceeding in English, according to the 3rd Circuit.

At a hearing on the merits of B.C.’s application, the judge proceeded without asking if he required an interpreter and rejected B.C.’s claim that he was not a fluent English speaker, at one point asking, “why would you have to practice English if that’s your native language?”

The judge ultimately found that B.C.’s testimony was inconsistent and ordered his deportation, and the Board of Immigration Appeals in 2019 affirmed.

On appeal, B.C.’s lawyers claimed the judge had violated his right to due process by neglecting to ascertain the languages he speaks proficiently or provide an interpreter.

The 3rd Circuit on Wednesday agreed, and said judges cannot assume that individuals who speak variations on standard English do not need interpreters.

“Failing to provide an interpreter when needed makes meaningless a noncitizen’s right to due process,” Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro wrote. “And not making a threshold inquiry into whether an interpreter is needed, in turn, renders the right to an interpreter meaningless.”

The court remanded the case for a new hearing.

The panel included Circuit Judges Cheryl Krause and Peter Phipps.

The case is B.C. v. Attorney General of the United States, 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 19-1408.

For the petitioner: Sozi Tulante of Dechert

For the government: Tim Ramnitz of the U.S. Department of Justice

(Note: This article has been updated to add a statement from Sozi Tulante.)

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6 comments

  1. There is need to wipe this hybrid language and replace with a pure African civilization language that will be used by all in learning, research commerce, industry. Societies with hybrid languages like this become crimenogenic, societies that breed crime because of identity erasure.

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  2. Learning to speak or write correctly is often dismissed on the pretext that 1) it is unnecessary 2) it is another man’s language 3) pidgin English will do 4) etc.

    And then on the D-Day, reality strikes!

    • The economy of Japan is five thousand trillion, that is two times the economy of Britain whose language you take as yours. are you more intelligent than the Japanese who have done this using Japanese as language? what is the use of our so called intellectuals whose only archivement is speaking the occupiers language? Where is your industry build with English or pigin?

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      • Brown Sugar ( Abuja )

        The African gods only understand the Africa dialect and way of worship. Something definitely is not right and has made things fall apart in the black continent.

  3. ABUJA,,, there is nothing like African gods. In African spirituality, there is no god, no Satan and no savior. Everything is founded on paying homage to the ancestors, doing better than they wanted us to. The main objective of this philosophy is creating and reinforcing social harmony. Nothing is mistical here like you make it sound. it is simple scientific reality applicable to all civilizations. Stick to your language, upgrade make it useful for modern existence, preserve and improve your values and spirituality to forge harmony and you have a productive people ready to work as a team for group interest which comes first.