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Utah business speaks the language of helping immigrants



Salt Lake City, Utah – According to the Congressional Budget Office, 3.3 million immigrants are expected to enter the country this year. The government has scheduled court dates for many of these individuals to ascertain their plans for staying or leaving. This is a significant task, as I discovered, particularly when immigrants from south of the border don’t know any common languages like Spanish or English.

A former Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints missionary discovered a niche there.

During his 2010 LDS mission to Guatemala, Jace Norton started out speaking Spanish but was soon tasked with learning the Qeqchi language of the Mayans.

“It was an amazing experience, being able to learn Qeqchi. being able to access this culture that most people have never heard of,” said Norton. “They’re amazing people.”

Norton believed he might never use the language again when he returned to the United States in 2012—that is, until he learned that anyone who understood any of the 22 or more Mayan languages was in high demand for an interpreter.

“They were flying me out to New York City, Miami, Houston, San Francisco, pretty much every major city, I was doing six-to-10 cases per week for them all over the United States,” he explained.

Because of the overwhelming demand, Norton was asked whether he could organize a larger group to assist.

“So I said, Well, you know, I know a lot of guys just like me who are returned missionaries who served in Guatemala who have learned Kechi, and I can do something about it,” Norton said.

Norton subsequently founded Maya Bridge Language Services. A significant portion of their work is working with unaccompanied youngsters, where caseworkers from the Office of Refugee Resettlement are tasked with the difficult responsibility of making sure a child’s U.S. sponsor is a trustworthy individual and won’t end up being trafficked.

“Those kids just, you know, can end up in foster care,” he said. “There’s no way for them to communicate. Who are you supposed to go with, right? Or who is this person? So, they might not be able to get reunited with somebody that otherwise knows where they’re going.

“These populations, indigenous speakers, they’re the ones that are coming most frequently to the United States. Because they’re the ones that are the most impoverished, they have the least opportunity. And they are the ones that are most desperate for a change.”

It is difficult to obtain legal authorization for interpreters to work in the United States because indigenous languages are only spoken in remote areas of Central America. Currently, Maya Bridge employs hundreds of former missionaries who are fluent in most of the dialects as well as those Mayans who are lawfully resident in the United States and have studied English.

Former missionaries from central Guatemala, such as Francisco Jesus. Speaks exclusively in his hometown of Soloma, Hueheutenango, Kanjobal is a little-known language that is his native tongue. Jesus arrived in the nation sixteen years ago to work and support his sisters and mother in Soloma.

“It’s because it’s better because of the opportunity of United States,” he said. “People we come here and we work so hard.”

Even with his own family to support in the United States, Jesus continues to send back at least thirty percent of his earnings.

“We have to send some money for everything, even if they need to go to the doctor for food for this for that. So that’s what we do,” Jesus explained.

Norton claims he is called to assist with a language that is spoken so infrequently.

“I mean, it’s incredible, and it’s definitely the most heartwarming part of this job,” he said. “All of a sudden, you have somebody that can speak their language. You know, they’re obviously very excited. Especially if it’s somebody like myself, who doesn’t look like I should be able to speak their language, they’re kind of surprised and I think it’s kind of funny.”

Although many of them might not be allowed to remain in the country, Norton claims that Maya Bridge has assisted thousands of kids and adults in communicating with the legal system. He expects that all of them will be able to comprehend the judgments made and effectively convey their side of the story when their case is up for hearing.


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