Court interpreter ethics and the role of professional organizations

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The changing landscape in interpreting includes a recent trend toward criminalizing unauthorized immigration, giving rise to a procedurally and ethically ambiguous area of the law: “crimmigration.” Its contradictions in terms of constitutional, civil, and human rights came to the fore in the 2008 Postville, Iowa immigration raid and mass felony prosecutions, a landmark case that challenged interpreter codes of ethics and the role of professional organizations in responding to such challenges. This paper examines both the intrinsic and interpretive limitations of existing ethical codes through a historical analysis of their development in relation to the main traditions in ethical theory – deontology, consequentialism, moral sentiments, and virtue ethics – and using Postville as a practical case study. Recommendations are made for an in-depth revision of interpreter codes and the proactive leadership role of professional organizations, proposing as model the interpreter code of ethics of the Massachusetts Trial Courts.


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