You are currently viewing #EndFamilyDetention assistance now available Tz’utujil, a Mayan language

#EndFamilyDetention assistance now available Tz’utujil, a Mayan language


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In an international collaboration to #EndFamilyDetention, this website ( and the Fundación Tradiciones Mayas (Maya Traditions Foundation) of Guatemala humbly present a 7 chapter, 42-part video series about how to navigate the U.S. immigrant detention system in Tz’utujil, a Mayan language from the western highlands of Guatemala spoken by an estimated 60,000 people.


We are asking #EndFamilyDetention allies, activists and organizations to help share this information in a collective effort to reach members the Tz’utujil community who may be affected by the ongoing immigrant and family detention/human rights crisis.

According to the Fundación Tradiciones Mayas, the language –Tz’utujil — does exist in written form, though many people do not know it.  It is often associated with Spanish in written form.  However, this new video series includes a written script in Tz’utujil that will be made public in the coming weeks.  The announcement of this project precedes its completion but given the urgency of this crisis, the video series was released early.

According to the volunteers at the Maya Traditions Foundation who self-produced the series, “many people in Guatemala choose to migrate to the United States in search of a better life with more opportunities. A good amount of these people come from rural indigenous communities where they have been historically discriminated against and denied the most basic rights. In working with indigenous Maya Tz’utujil students to translate these videos, they expressed the importance of ensuring that each individual is aware of their rights and the process they are going through.”

In a recent post on our site, a call for release of all speakers of Mayan languages in immigrant prison camps or “family residential centers” to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Justice was made public.  Here is an excerpt of that letter:

Dear Secretary Johnson and Attorney General Holder,

Among the hundreds of women and children who are detained by the Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE) in remote locations, are a number of people whose first language is an indigenous one, and who speak little or no Spanish or English.

Refugees and immigrants who are native speakers of variants of Ki’ché, Mam, Kaqchikel, Q’anjob’al, Tz’utujil, and other Mayan languages, when detained by ICE in Karnes City, Hutto, Pearsall, or other non-metropolitan areas, have no effective access to legal information or representation. There are no Legal Orientation Programs or “Know Your Rights” presentations either. There seem to be no immigration lawyers (or perhaps lawyers at all) in Texas who speak these languages. Linguistically speaking, these women and children live in virtual solitary confinement. They tend to be detained much longer than other refugees, because they are not able to find lawyers with whom they can communicate. What translation exists tends to be done by bilingual, or somewhat bilingual, Mayan children or other detained refugees.

Of course, such translations in the context of people who may be applying for asylum, withholding of removal, or protection under Convention Against Torture are completely inappropriate. Mothers resist sharing details of abuse, torture, sexual assaults, and humiliation with their children; children and teenagers withhold such information from their parents. It is also possible that members of one family may be, or have been, involved in the persecution of another family’s members, who are detained in the same ICE facility. Confidentiality must be an essential aspect of claims for asylum or related claims for refuge.

Many people suggest that lawyers simply make use of interpretation over the phone or by Skype. ICE facilities, in general, preclude cell phone or wi-fi use by lawyers and paralegals. Even were cell phone use possible, reception would be unreliable in remote locations such as Karnes, for example. Use of phones located in common areas via private companies is neither affordable nor confidential.

The only way that monolingual, or essentially monolingual, speakers of Mayan and other indigenous languages can understand U.S. law, including the process of removal and possible relief from removal, is to allow them these speakers to live in the community with other people who speak their language, and to find lawyers with whom they can communicate. The current practice in which ICE refuses to set bond, or release on their own recognizance, for Central American women and children who have entered the U.S. since June, causes particular harm to speakers of Mayan and other indigenous languages.

This denial of equal protection and of due process offends the U.S. constitution and international law.

For these reasons, we call on you to immediately release on their own recognizance, the alternatives to detention program, parole, or some combination of these means, all refugees or immigrants or other “aliens” whose primary language is an indigenous one and who do not speak English or Spanish, and also to release the children of these speakers of indigenous languages.

On Friday, February 20, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg, struck a blow against the Department of Homeland Security’s practice of detaining refugee families for weeks and months at a time.  However, that ruling fell short particularly for the indigenous language speakers.  In our recent article, Five reasons to CONTINUE to oppose family detention: Feb 24 declaration of support, “many women and children who are detained do not belong to the class of people protected by the decision,” particularly indigenous women and their children.

The class of mothers and children covered by the decision are women who have passed their credible fear interviews.  But asylum officers who are charged with conducting credible and reasonable fear interviews often have no way to communicate with indigenous women who speak their native languages, and who are not fluent in English or Spanish.  These women are sent to court without having been interviewed at all; therefore, many of them have not passed credible fear interviews and are not protected by the injunction in R.I.L.-R. versus Jeh Johnson. So it is not that indigenous, Mayan-speaking women are excluded from the class as such, but that because of the language differences, they frequently do not have credible fear interviews at all and are thus not going to qualify as having passed credible fear interviews.

Additionally, a lack of transparency, deteriorating conditions inside the prisons, and Homeland Security’s No-Release policy also spurred Texas-based human rights attorney Virginia Raymond publish a copy of an open records request addressed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in March of this year.  A public resolution calling for release of women & children; end ICE’s no-release policy was made that also called attention to the plight of these particular families.

This video series is the first in a larger series that will include information in Kiche and Kaquichel.


For more information about the Fundación Tradiciones Mayas (Maya Traditions Foundation) please visit

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