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Advocates: Many asylum seekers at New York jail disoriented

July 18, 2018 GMT

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Hundreds of migrants apprehended at the southern border are being held across the country in an upstate New York jail, many arriving “incredibly disoriented,” according to advocates scrambling to get them legal aid.

The Albany County Jail has taken in about 300 migrants this summer under an arrangement with federal officials. Most of them are asylum-seekers and were apprehended at the southern border. About half are from Central America, with others coming from Asia, eastern Europe and Africa, according to the New York Immigration Coalition.

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The mass transfer of detainees almost 2,000 miles from the border illustrates the far-flung effects of the Trump administration’s harder line on immigration. And it has prompted lawyers and interpreters to work nights and weekends at the jail to get them emergency help.

The coalition’s Camille Mackler said it was like the southern border moved to Albany.

“For the most part, we’ve been having to draw maps on legal pads of the United States to explain to them where they are,” Mackler told reporters Wednesday during a conference call.

Mackler said some of the adults were separated from family members they traveled with and about 10 were separated from their children.

Hundreds of people have volunteered to help and attorneys have already met with about 200 detainees. Advocates said an initial goal is preparing them for their so-called credible fear interviews with federal officials, a key step in the asylum-seeking process.

“This is absolutely an emergency situation and an incredibly chaotic one,” said the coalition’s Meredith Fortin.

Advocates stressed that officials at the 1,043-bed jail have been very cooperative with the volunteers and responsive to the needs of the detainees.

Advocates said they believe facilities in Albany and other locations far from the border are being used as facilities closer to the southern border fill up.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in an emailed statement that to “accommodate various operational demands,” it routinely transfers detainees “based on available resources and the needs of the agency.”

The agency said it works with administrators of immigration courts “to ensure the continuity of any ongoing legal proceedings.”