Albany County Jail looking for additional volunteers to help immigrant detainees

Local

As hundreds of immigrants remain detained in Albany County, the jail is welcoming volunteers to offer guidance.

It’s very rare for jails housing immigrants to open their doors with such magnitude to volunteers. But they have a lot to do. As of Wednesday morning, the county jail is housing 320 immigrants for low level crimes, according to the sheriff.

“It feels really good to be able to use them in a situation that is of such high need,” volunteer interpreter Margaret Sharkey said.

After years of honing her Spanish skills, Sharkey is bringing them to the Albany County Jail.

“Regardless of a situation, there’s a procedure of justice that needs to be followed, and that’s all that we’re trying to ensure,” she said.

Concerned about the immigration crisis in the country, she decided to volunteer as a translator for the hundreds of immigrants detained at the jail, specifically to help them understand their legal situation.

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said it was important for him to provide this kind of access and humane treatment for the detainees.

“You’ve got to give these folks a little bit of help, a little bit of incite, as to what’s going to happen, what’s the process, give them something,” he said.

A non-profit called The Legal Project, Albany Law School, and the Immigration Coalition are spearheading the program. Together, they’re teaming up attorneys and interpreters to collect information on each inmate, who are from more than 15 different countries.

“Essentially, what’s happened is the border has come to Albany and that never happens,” Albany Law School Prof. Sarah Rogerson said.

But Rogerson said they’re organized and want to ensure all detainees get a fair shot.

“Now it’s a challenge for us to make sure that they can articulate that to the government so that they can continue on to be able to make an asylum claim in the future,” she said.

So far, the response has been significant. Dozens attended a training session Wednesday night.

“We have received, I will say, probably 600 emails of people contacting us wanting to volunteer,” The Legal Project Immigration Program Coordinator Natalie Birch-Higgins said.

But they still need more.

“I hope that I was able to provide some level of comfort or just human contact,” Sharkey said.

The sheriff does not plan to take any more immigrants at this time unless some are taken out.

For people who want to volunteer as a translator or attorney, reach out to The Legal Project via email at cric@legalproject.org. Both regular and immigration attorneys are needed.

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