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WAMC News

Albany County Sheriff Announces Funding For Asylum Seekers

Albany County officials gather Wednesday
Lucas Willard
/
WAMC
Albany County officials gather Wednesday

Albany County has become the first in the state to reallocate funding received from the federal government for housing undocumented migrants toward helping those individuals seek asylum.

Since June, Albany County Jail has received hundreds of migrants from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement apprehended at the southern border.

Working with Albany County and the sheriff’s office, an army of volunteers has been working in the jail to provide legal assistance to the immigrants. At least 27 individuals brought to the jail had been separated from family members. As of Wednesday morning, 180 immigrants are still being held in the jail.

The federal government has paid Albany County about $4 million since it received the large influx of immigrants over the summer. The county is expected to receive another $1 million before year’s end.

Speaking in the rotunda at the Albany County Courthouse, local leaders announced that $170,000 received from the federal government would be reallocated, to provide full-time legal services within Albany County Jail.

Sheriff Craig Apple:

“This is something that should be done throughout the country, this isn’t something that should just be isolated to Albany County. But, fortunately, we are in fact the first law enforcement/county legislature to reinvest some of that money in New York state and who knows how far beyond,” said Apple.

Camille Mackler, Director of Immigration Legal Policy at the New York Immigration Coalition, said a full-time lawyer located in the jail would be able to continue the effort to help migrants seek political asylum.

“This is about making a system that is fundamentally unfair and stacked against individuals at their lowest and most vulnerable moment in their lives, and making that system a little bit more fair. Like I said, we’re not asking them to be granted asylum, we are asking them to have a fair chance to apply and have a judge adjudicate that,” said Mackler.

Ahead of appearing before an immigration judge, asylum seekers go through what is called a Credible Fear Interview. The volunteers within the jail have been triaging the immigrants who came from all over the world, finding out what language they speak, finding information on family members, and preparing them for the interview process.

Sarah Rogerson, Director of the Immigration Law Clinic at Albany Law School’s Law Clinic and Justice Center, said it’s important that the immigrants are informed heading into the interview.

“With a positive Credible Fear outcome, they can apply for parole and we’re working on extending our network out to Buffalo and Batavia so that we can provide even more lawyers to get them out of jail faster so they can be reunited with their families,” said Rogerson. 

Federal immigration courts are located in New York City and Batavia in Western New York. Immigrants being held in Albany are awaiting trial.

Sheriff Apple believes assisting them is the right thing to do.

“Listen, people are going to come out when they see this story and they’re going to be like, ‘Oh my God, what are we doing? This is an immigration issue.’ But when you see men and women in their cells at night crying about violently being raped repeatedly in their travel to the border, if you have the smallest heart, you’re going to do what you can to help these people,” said Apple.

The remainder of the federal money is included in the Albany County budget.

County Legislature Chair Andrew Joyce said the actions of the volunteers, the sheriff’s office, and local government are what he called a “push back” against current national policies.

“I don’t want to make it a partisan issue, but as Democrats and local government Democrats, it’s part of our responsibility to push back and resist on some of these destructive policies we’re seeing nationwide,” said Joyce. “And again I’ll stress, folks are going to look back 50 years from now and they’re going to look and wonder what we did with this opportunity and I hope they’ll be proud.”

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