Access to Justice Issues Raised by Tennessee Refugee’s Case

The Tennessean reports that Sawn Hing, a Burmese refugee who spent two years tangled in the criminal justice system after facing child abuse accusations, has had her case reopened. According to the article, the case raises questions about the Nashville court system’s ability to deal with its growing immigrant and refugee populations.

Saw Hing’s case was reopened after it emerged that Hing’s pastor, who was used in court proceedings to interpret and translate Hing’s rare language of Matu-Chin, didn’t actually speak the language or understand the legal terms in English.

With over 120 languages spoken in Nashville metro schools alone, immigrant advocates argue that the case highlights how cultural and linguistic differences are becoming an increasing barrier to accessing justice among immigrant and minority populations.

Nashville immigration attorney Sean Lewis, who was hired by Hing’s church, told The Tennessean that Hing has since been granted asylum and was released from the federal prison in 2015. Lewis said he worries that other immigrants do not fully understand what happens in the court system. Through an interpreter, Hing responded to Judge Steve Dozier’s questions, saying that she doesn’t know if the immigration case is still pending, doesn’t know the name of the street she lives on, doesn’t know if she was still reporting to a probation officer.