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Effort Underway To Make Albany A Sanctuary County

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, flanked by Earthjustice Attorney Chris Amato and BeBe White, president of the Ezra Prentice Homes Tenants Association
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, flanked by Earthjustice Attorney Chris Amato and BeBe White, president of the Ezra Prentice Homes Tenants Association

A Democratic Albany County legislator has proposed a resolution that would make Albany a sanctuary county.

Sam Fein represents the 6th District, which includes areas like the Mansion Neighborhood, parts of the South End and Delaware Avenue. He says his constituents, many of them immigrants, are alarmed over national policy.   "...with children being locked, concerned about what they hear from our president, a lot of our leaders at the national level are using some very offensive terms about immigrants, trying to blame immigrants for our country's problems, for crime. Immigrants and native-born Americans who live in Albany County want to know that we stand for values of tolerance and acceptance and that we are not part of this anti-immigrant wave that's taking over a lot of the country."

Fein has proposed Local Law “R,” which would stop county agency services from cooperating with federal immigration enforcement requests and ensure people on the street aren’t randomly stopped and questioned concerning their citizenship status.   "Very similar to the Sanctuary County and Sanctuary City movement that's happening nationally and similar to what was done at city level in Albany."

But Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, also a Democrat, is exercising caution.  "Not a lot of federal dollars go into cities, but into counties, we get a lot of federal money that comes in for programs like 'Meals on Wheels' you know, so Department of Aging gets a lot of different grants, DCYF our children youth and families, so these are things I'm concerned about you know, and listen I started Immigration Office four years ago. We have the first and only Immigration Office in the state of New York that represents just not Albany County but 12 other counties going up to Champlain border. First and foremost I wanna protect everyone's freedoms when they come to this country. But obviously I have to be careful and I just gotta make sure that the balance of it if this does go into law, is that it doesn't affect us financially."

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple tells the Times Union “I’ve never in 31 years known any local cops questioning someone’s citizenship.”

Fein says it's important to formally establish policy.   "I'm sure that the sheriff probably mostly isn't inquiring about people's immigration status, actually starting to deport people, and I didn't propose this because I think that we're living in a county that's actively trying to deport citizens. I did it more because I think it's important that we put this into law to really be a county policy so that the people that live here know and can expect exactly how the government's going to operate, know that they're safe and know that it's a welcoming place."

Fein says his proposed law isn't meant to conflict with Apple's immigrant programs and initiatives at the county jail.

"I think that that's a good program where a lot of people who would be in federal prison serving, would be treated much worse off in coming from these federal prisons they're treated much better in Albany County, they're given legal services, medical help," said Fein.
Albany-area state Assemblywoman Pat Fahy:   "The sheriff is working with all the legal aid groups and all the legal projects to make sure that we are getting as much assistance as possible so that these detained are having their rights represented.  I wouldn't want any other proposal to trip that up. At the same time I think that this proposal is really more to send a statement that we respect the rights of detainees, we respect the rights of immigrants, refugees and those who are asylum seekers."

Joe Sullivan, the Conservative candidate for the 109th Assembly seat currently held by Fahy, labels Fein's proposed law "misguided."  "Our country is under a threat from invasion right now. The Mexican president-elect says he's gonna just flood us with people from Mexico, from Central America and also from the ISIS countries. So we can't have this kind of stuff going on. We have enough poor people of our own. When you think about it, Medicare has maybe six to eight years left. Our country is facing very severe financial problems. The city of Albany is destitute. America is a lifeboat that's adrift in a sea of world poverty. We can't solve all the poverty problems of the world. We gotta take care of ourselves, number one."

The County Legislature next meets August 13.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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