Immigration & Language

Immigration & Language Assistance
The following documents provide general information for prisoners who are not United States citizens or who have limited proficiency in English. For a listing of organizations that may be able to provide legal advice or representation on immigration matters, click here.

DOC Translation Services

The Department of Correction uses the AT&T Language Line to make over-the-phone language interpretation available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to prisoners who need it. This service can be used to translate 140 different languages for any non English-speaking prisoner. The Language Line is available to be used by prisoners over speakerphones for translating in the following areas only:


booking and admissions

HSU (medical)

classification boards

disciplinary hearings

The Langage Line should be made available if a prisoner requests the use of an interpreter or if correctional or medical staff believe the use of an interpreter is necessary.

The DOC policy allows that IPS may interview prisoners with bilingual staff members during the course of an investigation if “the situation does not lend itself” to the use of the Language Line. (103 DOC 488.01(2)). Prisoners are not supposed to be used as interpreters for other prisoners in any of these areas. (103 DOC 488.01(3)).

How to Request an Interpreter
If a prisoner needs the Language Line for:

Classification Board Hearing– submit a written request to the Unit Manager or Correctional Program Officer 48 hours prior to the hearing.

Disciplinary Board Hearings- submit a written request to the Institution Disciplinary Officer or your Correctional Program Officer 48 hours prior to the hearing.

HSU, IPS Investigations or Booking and Admissions Proceedings– orally request (ask for) access to the Language Line from an “appropriate representative.” Basically, this means the prisoner should ask the person he or she will be seeing when the translation services is needed, so they can make the Language Line available.
Following these guidelines is the best way to get access to the Language Line interpreter service, but if a prisoner does not follow these suggested guidelines, it is not supposed to be used as a reason to deny the use of the service (103 DOC 488.03).

If a prisoner needs access to this service and has been denied access after requesting it, he or she should file a grievance, in his or her natural language if necessary, and follow the full appeals procedure on the grievance. If that does not resolve the problem, please contact PLS and send a copy of the grievance(s) and the response(s).

Representation of Prisoners in Deportation Proceedings

There have been many recent changes in federal immigration law which are harmful to persons facing deportation with criminal convictions. For these reason, if at all possible, prisoners or their family should hire an attorney to represent you at the deportation hearing. PLS does not provide this type of representation. The following information may help in finding an attorney or get valuable advice on this matter.

1. P.A.I.R. Project – Political Asylum and Immigration Resources
The P.A.I.R. Project refers persons seeking immigration assistance to private attorneys on a reduced fee basis. While the attorney’s services are not free, the cost will be less than hiring a private attorney directly. To contact them, call (617) 742-9296 or write to the P.A.I.R. Project, P.O. Box 2137, Boston, MA 02106. When calling or writing, please provide the following information:

  • The date the prisoner entered the United States
  • The prisoner’s immigration status before going to prison
  • Information on any immigration proceedings he or she has already had
  • The date, charge, sentence, and location of the prisoner’s criminal conviction
  • The immigration status of close family members living in the United States

Telephone calls will be responded to more quickly than letters.

2. International Institute of New England
The International Institute has an immigration attorney on staff who may be able to assist prisoners. The Institute accepts collect calls from prisoners at (617) 695-9990. Calls are accepted Monday – Thursday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and Friday between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. If the lawyer is available, she will speak to you at that time. You can write to them at International Institute of Boston, One Milk Street, Boston, MA 02109.

3. Boston College Immigration & Asylum Project
This project can offer advice and assistance to persons detained by immigration authorities in the New England area, and will provide representation and fee-based referral services to some people being deported.

The Project’s telephone number is (617) 552-0593. They do accept collect calls on that line. As it will not be on most prisoners’ PIN cards, however, the address is

Boston College Immigration & Asylum Project
885 Centre St
Newton, MA 02159

4. Attorney Referral Services
If you can afford to hire an attorney, you may also contact the following bar referral services, which may be able to provide a referral to an attorney:

Boston Bar Association Referral Service
16 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 742-0625

(Note: The BBA Referral Service also has a reduced fee panel, which refers eligible clients to attorneys for representation at a reduced fee level. Inquire about the reduced fee panel when you write or have your family member call the BBA Referral Service.)

Massachusetts Bar Association Referral Service
20 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
(617) 338-0555

National Lawyers Guild Referral Service

Massachusetts Bar Association Referral Service
14 Beacon St. Suite 407
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 227-7008

5. Congressional Representatives and Senators
If the prisoner has family members who are United States citizens, they should also contact the prisoner’s Congressional representative and senators. U.S. senators and representatives can introduce special bills in Congress on behalf of an individual person who is seeking to be permitted to remain in the United States. They are sometimes receptive to doing so when a person facing deportation has United States citizen family members, if they feel that the family situation is sympathetic. Citizen family member(s) can call and write to the prisoner’s Representative and Senator, asking that they act on his or her behalf by filing a bill in Congress to permit him or her to remain in the U.S. after his or her sentence is completed.