The Night Shift

Denise Figueroa, Interpreter Local 1070

Denise Figueroa, Interpreter Local 1070 Photo: Clarence Elie-Rivera

As a Night Court Interpreter in Bronx County Criminal Court Arraignments. I translate for persons of interest who have a language barrier so they understand the system.

For nearly 28 years, I’ve been the link between the justice system and non-English speaking litigants. Since 2012, I’ve worked in Night Court — each borough has one.

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As a Spanish Interpreter, I assist by translating for people arrested for domestic violence, jumping the subway turnstile, traffic infractions, homicide, and other crimes. They must be arraigned within 24 hours. I don’t just assist arrested people; I translate for their family members, the police, Corrections Officers, the district attorney, lawyers, court officers, court reporters, clerks and the judge. My work helps them understand court proceedings, search warrants, orders of protection and bail documents–and to know what they are signing.

There are Interpreters of more than 100 languages from Arabic to Urdu working in New York City’s Family, Housing, Civil, Criminal and Supreme courts. As certified Court Interpreters, we take a confidentiality oath. We do everything to keep our integrity as Interpreters. I’m a member the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators. And for eight years, I helped my coworkers as the first woman to serve as union shop steward here.

I am the first generation of my family born in New York City. My bilingual parents are from Puerto Rico. My father served in the U.S. Air Force, and he insisted I learn both English and Spanish. I did it to communicate with my grandparents. I never thought translating for neighbors and classmates in the schoolyard in Hunts Point — defending kids who didn’t speak English from bullies — could lead to this rewarding career.

My job as Interpreter is extremely important. From the arrest through the indictment, I interpret for Spanish-speaking persons of interest whether they use a public defender or private attorney. I can have 25 to 50 cases a night, so it gets hectic during my 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift. I am the sole Spanish Interpreter, so the onus is on me. I am the language connection and I love my job!

It may be as simple as a ticket or summons, but when I translate I see relief on their faces. I help them through one of the most difficult times in their lives. They are afraid and I’m here to help. Everyone is not a hardcore criminal. Even if they are, their rights need to be protected. They need to understand and be understood.

You can’t image how grateful people are. I get a deep sense of accomplishment from my work. As a kid I used to translate for free — now I’m paid for it!

“I thank God I live in a country that provides this vital service to those whose liberty could be taken away.

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