Photo: Will Waldron
COLONIE — Albany County will receive upwards of $4.5 million this year for housing federal immigration detainees at the county jail.
That number more than doubles what the county typically receives for boarding people at the jail. The income previously was generated through housing detainees accused of crimes outside of Albany County, like individuals facing federal charges, or those transferred from crowded facilities like Rikers Island in New York City.
The county already collected $7.1 million for detainees by the end of November — more than half of it from reimbursements by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as part of the current U.S. administration’s push to place undocumented immigrants in federal custody.
The 1,040-bed jail, which in recent years as remained half empty, reached a high of holding more than 300 ICE detainees over the summer— at a payment of $119 per day, per person. Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said the number has since lowered to about 100 people.
Because of a high number of vacancies in jail staff and the budget already covering meal costs for a full jail, it costs very little to take care of borders, Apple said. The estimated $8.1 million that will be received by year’s end for all jail borders goes back into the county’s general coffers.
Federal revenue for ICE detainees has been so abundant that the Albany County Legislature’s Democratic majority last week noted that it was allocating more than $2.5 million in ICE monies to help provide property owners with a tax decrease in 2019.
The legislature’s majority said it also was using $6 million in projected increases in sales tax to reduce property taxes by 4.3 percent.
“The County has seen an unprecedented increase in its revenues,” notes the majority’s release on the budget.
The program to board immigrant detainees, the statement said, ” helps to lower the tax levy, and provide immigrants with legal and other services.”
Apple said he was surprised by the majority’s characterization of the money — noting that the revenue is only possible because of continued cuts in the yearly jail budget itself.
“That’s a horrible message, I wouldn’t have went there at all,” Apple said. “I’d rather say that it’s due to increased border revenue and running things efficiently.”
Meanwhile, the federal government has been criticized by auditors for decades for its over-payment to outside facilities to house people in federal custody. The issue has become controversial in recent months as reports have surfaced about private corporations making millions off holding adults and children detained by ICE.
The Albany County sheriff has been vocal in defending the county’s willingness to board the detainees, saying that his facility is providing legal and other assistance for them.
Among the about 300 migrants sent from the southern border to the Albany County Jail over the summer, the majority have since been transferred to a federal detention facility in Batavia in Western New York. Detainees who are transferred have had credible-fear interviews, which is required to determine whether they have a right to asylum in the United States. An immigration judge then reviews their case in a court hearing and decides whether they receive asylum.
The detainees at the county jail have come from more than 25 countries and arrived at the southern U.S. border, reportedly to escape violence in their native country. Only half are from Central America, with others arriving to the southern U.S. border from overseas, including India and Ukraine, according to the New York Immigration Coalition.
The county has partnered with volunteers from Albany Law School, in conjunction with the Legal Project, to provide asylum-seekers with legal representation and translators. Last month, Albany County announced it was spending $170,000 on an in-house immigration attorney to provide relief to the legal volunteers.
“I’m very comfortable putting my head down at night knowing that we’re treating people fairly. We’re displaying some compassion and kindness,” Apple said. “We’re still accomplishing our mission, we’re still bringing in millions of dollars above and beyond, and we’re treating people humanely. I’ve got no problem with that.”
How much income Albany County will receive in 2019 from the federal government to pay for the transfer undocumented immigrants is unknown because the Trump administration’s immigration policy is subject to change.
Top Albany County Jail revenues for detainees from outside Albany County*
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – $4.4 million
Federal Marshal – $1.2 million
New York City (Rikers) – $701,684
Schoharie County – $561,765
Herkimer County – $226,320
*Revenue is from Jan. 1 to Nov. 30, 2018
Source: Albany County Sheriff
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