Indigenous Interpreters: Connecting Indigenous Detainees with their Rights

In detention centers, indigenous people need trained interpreters to get their stories heard.

Red Mexicana de Lideres y Organizaciones Migrantes

Human Rights

Our story

Lawyers for indigenous detainees describe a “countdown” that starts when a Mayan or indigenous Mexican detainee enters a detention center. Without communication with their attorneys or other detainees, indigenous men and women “go to a dark place” due to the trauma of detention and the hopelessness of isolation.

Trained indigenous interpreters offer a linguistic and cultural connection. The interpreters offered by Homeland Security and ICE are untrained and unfamiliar with key legal terminology.  Interpreters trained by indigenous organizations like CIELO (Communidades Indígenas en Liderazgo) and FIOB (Frente Indígena de Organizaciones Binacionales) put community service at the heart of their mission and learn the vocabulary, best practices, and ethics of their role. This campaign builds on the success of CIELO and FIOB’s interpreter training program to train 15 indigenous interpreters who will immediately have an impact in indigenous detainees lives.

CIELO (Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo) and FIOB are indigenous-women-led organizations that understands the needs of detained Guatemalan and Mexican migrants who speak little Spanish.

CIELO has assembled an experienced team of legal advocates, interpreter trainers, and instructors in community-building to conduct a 3-day, 24 hour training. Donations will support speakers of Mayan and Mexican indigenous languages’ attendance at the trainings, including plane fare, ground transportation, meals, and rental space for the training itself.


Why training interpreters matters:

CIELO and FIOB have been training interpreters in Southern California since 1997. The need for trained interpreters was first identified when migrant farmworkers would suffer injustices in healthcare and legal settings because they spoke neither Spanish nor English.

Now, the most urgent need is for indigenous migrants stuck in the US detention system. They are quickly becoming the majority of detainees, but neither the government agencies, nor the language service companies know how to make language services a reality for detainees.  Most people working with detainees think that indigenous languages are dialects of Spanish, which they aren’t. Interviews with detainees show that most are simply not getting interpreters who speak their languages.

Indigenous organizations like CIELO and FIOB understand the languages, the cultures, and the particular problems that indigenous people face in detention. And rather than checking an empty box, they put delivering a real service to their brothers and sisters at the heart of their work. Every week, a trained interpreter can offer dozens if not hundreds of detainees the possibility of communicating with advocates and judges, while at the same time making a living wage.


Each donation will be put to use.

CIELO is actively seeking additional supporters for this project. All funds raised will have an impact in convening an interpreter training.

  • $5 can cover one person’s ride in a shared rideshare.
  • $15 can cover a meal for a workshop participant.
  • Larger donations will cover airfare so that speakers of the most-needed languages can fly to Los Angeles from their home states.

To donors of over $150, CIELO will send a thank-you perk of a hand made embroidered blouse from Oaxaca.

If you can’t donate, but want to support indigenous interpreters, you can spread the word about the urgent need described here.


Detainees need trained interpreters, in their languages. Indigenous organizations like CIELO and FIOB understand the need and are working to meet the need.

You can become a campaign ambassador or volunteer or use the hashtag #LanguageNotDialect and #IndigenousLanguageStories. And please use the HIPgive social media sharing tools!




please know that all Americans are not insane.






David Tavarez




Laura E Nussbaum-Barberena


Emma Hulse


Alena Uliasz


Jonathan Fox





Back to menú