ATISDA Blog (Association of Translators and Interpreters in the San Diego Area)

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Learn about the asylum interview process with Artemisa Valle

ATISDA Treasurer Artemisa Valle will present a fascinating look at the asylum interview process for us on Saturday, June 22. Her presentation, The Asylum Interview: Interpreter Do’s and Don’ts, will discuss issues that may jeopardize the successful performance of an interpreter at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Artemisa about the presentation and the valuable work she does for the community.

Melissa Kamenjarin, ATISDA blog writer: Please tell us about the work you do for Casa Cornelia. What is this organization and who does it help? What role do you play it its mission?

Artemisa Valle: My responsibilities include recruitment, training, and mentoring of volunteer community interpreters. Casa Cornelia Law Center is a not-for-profit public interest law firm that provides legal services to victims of human and civil rights violations. Casa Cornelia works on a pro bono model relying on volunteer attorneys and interpreters and translators. My role as the Language Support Coordinator is to prepare the community volunteer to become the ambassador for Casa Cornelia and to provide basic language support for the attorney-client communication.

Kamenjarin: What role do current political and legal decisions have in asylum requests?

Valle: The immigrant community Casa Cornelia has supported for over 25 years is the population mostly impacted by the current administration policies. The affirmative asylum petition process, which includes the interview at the Anaheim, USCIS Asylum Office, has remained the same but now it has implemented first-come-first-served so the notice to appear may give the applicant only days to find an asylum-interview-experienced interpreter or a prepared volunteer.

Kamenjarin: How can translators and interpreters volunteer with Casa Cornelia? Can people help remotely?

Valle: Casa Cornelia’s volunteer webpage at—translators.html contains the details of the application process. This includes a personal interview with me to help the individual determine if this is a volunteer opportunity to which he or she is able to commit. Before the volunteer is assigned a task, he or she must attend an orientation where volunteers are prepared to adhere to Casa Cornelia’s policies, practices, and procedures. Translations, of course, may be completed in the comfort of the volunteer’s home. Telephonic or Skype interpretations are possible depending on the objective of the attorney-client meeting and/or other factors determined by the attorney and/or client.

Kamenjarin: Before we go into more detail, can you tell us what exactly asylum is? What does it mean for the candidate who applies for it? And who can apply?

Valle: First, a disclaimer. I am not an attorney; therefore, readers should not consider my response in any way the complete details of the asylum process nor in any way, shape, or form consider this legal advice. Non-documented immigrants may present themselves at a port of entry and state they are asylum seekers. They are detained on the spot and subsequently given a credible fear interview (CFI) by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). If the CFI is deemed credible, the individual is eligible to submit an application to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The applicant for asylum is eligible for employment authorization after 180 days. If asylum is granted, eventually the individual may apply for naturalization.

At the end of the asylum application process, the asylum interview is conducted by the USCIS. This interview determines whether the applicant is accepted or rejected. If rejected, the applicant may be returned to a place which may present peril to the applicant.

The interpreter competency is based on a memorandum issued by the USCIS in January of 2017. This memorandum presents some differences from what anyone who has had structured training in interpretation has learned as best practices.

Kamenjarin: That’s very interesting. Who evaluates interpreter competency and how? How does that differ from what we have learned as best practices in the interpreting and translating community? And in what ways does that affect the interpreter and the asylum applicant?

Valle: The interviewing officer determines competency based on a DHS-issued Policy Memo in January 2017 through the USCIS regarding the “Role and Use of Interpreters in Domestic Field Office Interviews.” It is determined during the progress of the interview itself, not beforehand, via observation and monitoring. In the interpreting and translating community, normally, competency should be determined before the task is performed. This practice, of evaluating during the interview, leaves the asylum applicant vulnerable to the interpreter’s (regardless of professional status) “incompetence.”

Kamenjarin: Are there other ways that interpreting for asylum interviews is different from any other interpreting assignment?

Valle: The participation of a monitor via the speakerphone may be jarring to seasoned professionals who have not participated in the asylum interview.

Kamenjarin: What will you discuss in your presentation? Who would get the most out of it?

Valle: My presentation will focus exclusively on the asylum applicant’s interpreter. The USCIS office admits volunteer as well as professional interpreters for the asylum applicant. I believe that community volunteers as well as seasoned professionals who have not experienced the asylum interview setting will benefit from my presentation.

Kamenjarin: Thanks so much for speaking with us on this issue.

Want to learn more about interpreting in these special circumstances? Join us on June 22 for this workshop. Details are available on our Facebook event page. The event is FREE for ATISDA members, who just need to email Yolanda Secos at by Thursday, June 20 to secure a spot.


Artemisa Valle


Artemisa Valle completed the SDSU Translation and Interpretation Professional Certificate (Spanish/English) from the University of California, San Diego, Extension, in the fall of 2010. Previously, she had also completed, at UCSD Extension, the ABA Approved Professional Certificate in Paralegal Studies (2006). She has pursued her career through her work as Coordinator of the Volunteer Interpreters and Translators Program at Casa Cornelia Law Center since the summer of 2010. At this San Diego firm, she recruits, trains, and mentors community volunteers (all levels of experience and skill in the T/I profession) who assist with the attorney/client communication. Prior experience includes extensive work as an Information Systems Management professional in the insurance and banking industries. Artemisa currently lives with her husband in the 4S Ranch community of San Diego. She is a translator with a current focus on legal documents of all types. Independent translation experience includes, among others, Airline luggage handlers’ procedures manual, Commercial license drivers’ manual, Income tax declarations, and marketing materials. Her personal interests include future opportunities working on literary translations and presenting at an ATA Conference.