Shared from the 2018-09-01 Albany Times Union eEdition

immigration

ICE transfers detainees from Albany to Batavia

Migrants stopped at southern border had been held in county jail

Colonie

They traveled from more than 20 different countries to cross the southern border illegally to apply for asylum in the U.S., their attorneys said. Their volunteer immigration attorneys said some of the migrants told them they were beaten because of their political affiliations or targeted because of their stance against corruption. Others said they fled violence because of their sexual orientation. They’ve been in immigration detention for two months. Now, some are leaving their first legal support system in the U.S.

The 296 migrants, who were transferred from the southern border to Albany County jail in Colonie this summer face uncertain legal representation as many move to a site near Buffalo. After Friday, 126 will have been transferred to the Batavia Federal Detention Center, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Another 74 are “slotted” to be sent there. Batavia currently has 538 detainees.

A wave of volunteer attorneys stepped up to represent detainees in Albany this summer, and legal organizations are now scrambling to ensure that those moved still have representation.

Asylum seekers are five times more likely to get asylum when represented by a lawyer, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University reported. Last year, 20 percent of asylum seekers didn’t have a lawyer. Last year, 62 percent of asylum applications were denied.

“Legal service organizations that try to fill that gap are already strapped and underfunded,” said Albany Law School Professor Sarah Rogerson. “It’s reflective of the access-to-justice gap in this part of the state for immigrants generally, and the geographical distance makes it difficult.”

Rogerson said attorneys from Albany and New York City face the possibility long hours in transit to Buffalo for one immigration hearing — with no warning if or when the detainee might be moved again.

Meredith Fortin, director of Immigrant Support Services at the New York Immigration Coalition, connected with attorneys from volunteer legal societies, refugee nonprofit organizations and law school immigration clinics near Batavia to ensure a smooth transition for clients.

All detainees transferred already have had credible fear interviews with an immigration officer to explain why they are seeking asylum. An immigration judge reviews their case in a court hearing and decides whether they get asylum.

Detainees in New York are appointed a state-funded lawyer, but only at their first hearing — which none of the transfers have had yet. The first hearing scheduled for Aug. 31 was postponed.

At the hearing — conducted either at the immigration court at Batavia or video conference from Albany — asylum seekers may be considered for either parole or bond. Detainees are eligible for parole if they promise they’ll show up for immigration court and they aren’t a danger to the community, or have a serious medical condition or pregnancy.

Last year, the New York Civil Liberties Union won a lawsuit challenging unlawful parole denial for Batavia detainees after a spike in denials under the Trump administration. As a result of the lawsuit, nine asylum-seekers were released on parole and another 17 received bond hearings. But bond can often be unaffordable: in eight cases, it was set at $15,000; others ranged from $5,000 to $12,000.

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, who worked closely to provide access to attorneys at the county jail, said he has no concerns about continued representation because of attorney coordination.

But legal providers are keeping an eye on whether detainees have any possibility of release during the long road ahead.

mallory.moench@timesunion.com 518-454-5420

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