Immigrants facing linguistic barriers in the U.S. justice system: Case studies from North Carolina

Book Section

The fundamental assumption underlying the operation of the U.S. justice system is that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. This basic fairness is established by the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process and the Sixth Amendment’s protection of the right to a fair trial, and further supported by the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (cf. Kahaner 2009). In practice, however, equal treatment under the law is often compromised by socioeconomic disparities (e.g., access to resources such as private attorneys) or ideologies of race and gender that naturalize oppressive power structures (e.g., Ehrlich 2001; Mendoza-Denton 1995). Fair treatment and protection by the law regardless of one’s socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity, or other factors-and, indeed, the ability to enlist the courts to counteract discrimination and inequality based on such factors-are essential aspects of social justice. For immigrants, a crucial factor complicating access to fair treatment is language. Immigrants facing linguistic barriers who become involved with American courts must negotiate linguistic and cultural barriers within a justice system that is often ill-prepared to cope with their needs. This situation results in the marginalization and mishandling of these immigrants’ cases, perpetuating or exacerbating their socially disadvantaged positions.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Baran, D; Holmquist, Q

Published Date

  • December 12, 2018

Book Title

  • Language and Social Justice in Practice

Start / End Page

  • 226 - 234

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9781138069442

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.4324/9781315115702-29

Citation Source

  • Scopus