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UAlbany Students Help Immigrants Achieve Legal Status

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 20, 2016) -- Six University at Albany students are working with an Albany Law School student to help Albany-area immigrants reach lawful status in the United States.

The program, Project Totem, calls on UAlbany students to act as interpreters or translators for immigrant clients so that the Albany Law Immigration Clinic which includes the law student, also a UAlbany alumna – can provide legal services.

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From left: UAlbany freshmen Jasmine Mejia, Ricardo Torres, and Albany Law School student Natalia Faras. (Photo by David Singer)

“These are people who can be detained, abused, kept from working, and prevented from entering the social and economic systems that we all take for granted,” said Natalia Faras. “The role of the UAlbany students is essential - without them we couldn’t help our clients at all.”

Faras, who as part of the 3+3 program, completed three years at UAlbany and now is halfway through her studies at Albany Law School. She participates in the Immigration Clinic at Albany Law, which provides law students with training to provide direct representation to both detained and non-detained immigrants, including immigrant victims of domestic violence, intimate partner violence and sexual assault.

To launch Project Totem, Faras made many visits to UAlbany, and presented the project to more than 100students. She then interviewed the candidates and performed mock phone calls to interpret simulated client calls.

Through UAlbany’s community public service program (CPSP), each of the six student interpreters performed around 300 hours of service collectively. They attended client meetings, translated documents (birth certificates, court documents, telephone calls), and when necessary, visit the jail with Albany Law students participating in the Immigration Clinic.

Students involved with the program included: Luismiguel Adames, Jenny Tolosa, Jasmine Mejia, Ricardo Torres, Shirley Machado, and Jannelys Mercedes.

“The individuals that we work with are grateful for the help we are giving them,” said Torres, who has translated Spanish for several Hispanic families. “It is emotional and gives us great satisfaction to help them.”

Overall, Project Totem continues to grow. Faras and Advisement at Albany Law are already recruiting for the Fall 2016 semester.

“This project is a win-win for everyone, because UAlbany students get to network at Albany Law, the students experience a lawyer-client relationship, and are all able to help people who are not able to help themselves in the current system,” Faras said.

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.