Albany County Legislature Chairman Andrew Joyce, Legislator Carolyn McLaughlin, and the County Executive’s Office presented $50,000 to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) during a press conference in the Albany Law School Board Room on Thursday.
The funding is intended to help support critical legal services provided by USCRI in conjunction with Albany Law School to Afghan refugees resettling in Albany and Watervliet.
Through the Justice Center at Albany Law School, specifically the Immigration Law Clinic, and the Immigration Law Pro Bono Society, Albany Law students are representing several Afghan individuals and families and continuing to help USCRI screen Afghans for immigration relief and match them with legal representation.
Jacob Mantey ‘22, a lifelong Albany County resident, has led the efforts immersing himself in assisting immigrants and educating his classmates on immigration issues for years. Working through two semesters in the Immigration Law Clinic, including through school breaks, he is currently the President of the Immigration Law Pro Bono Society and the founding President of the Immigration Law Society.
Starting last fall, Mantey, Justice Center and Immigration Law Clinic Director Prof. Sarah Rogerson, Immigration Law Clinic Staff Attorney Lauren DesRosiers, and Albany Law student volunteers triaged hundreds of USCRI intake calls. Each call required hours of fact gathering, legal research, case management, scheduling, tracking, and interpretation services for Pashto and Dari – Afghanistan’s two most common languages.
The language barrier has been one of the toughest to break through.
“We can’t help people that we don’t understand,” Mantey said during the press conference. “The funding that the county is providing will directly go to funding some highly sought-after professional translation services to make the immigration legal services in the county more effective. It’s my—and my fellow students' honor—to be able to participate in this work.”
The funding will also help USCRI, the only refugee resettlement agency in the Capital Region, complete a comprehensive legal screening intake of 250 Afghans including an evaluation of their legal immigration eligibility before opportunities for permanent immigration status are lost.
Currently, some refugees are eligible for family or employment-based immigration options, but many are only eligible to apply for asylum. Without funding like Thursday’s $50,000 commitment, the future of these communities in the Capital Region is uncertain.