VERMONT — A new Vermont State Police policy seeks to separate federal immigration enforcement and local policing, placing Vermont’s policies in stark contrast with states across the country that are seeking to clamp down on immigration violations.
The bias-free policing policy went into effect the week before last following its release Nov. 4 by Gov. Shumlin and the Department of Public Safety. It outlines anti-discrimination policies similar to those before the revision and emphasizes race, ethnicity and “other personal criteria” cannot play a role in establishing suspicion or probable cause.
Should local police be required to enforce federal immigration policy?
A new clause in the policy specifically addresses immigration issues, essentially outlining for VSP troopers a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on immigration status.
The policy states that VSP “should not use agency resources, equipment or personnel for the purpose of detecting or apprehending individuals whose only violation of law is that they are in the United States without authorization and proper documentation.”
The policy revision follows a September incident in which a routine VSP traffic stop on Interstate 89 resulted in two farm worker passengers, neither of whom had their papers, being detained by the U.S. Border Patrol.
Following a review of the traffic stop, Trooper Jared Hatch was found to have acted in accordance with VSP policy when he questioned their immigration status in the country.
But the incident gave rise to renewed pressure from the Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project (VMFSP) and the American Civil Liberties Union for policy leadership from the state that sets boundaries for immigration inquiries.
Gov. Shumlin has expressed support for this delineation of state and federal law. He said in a Friday press release, “We have the finest state police force in the country. We owe it to our troopers to provide them clear guidance about state law enforcement priorities and parameters.”
And the new policy echoes a November 2010 bias-free policing model document released by Attorney General William Sorrell, which emphasizes a separation of state and local law enforcement from immigration enforcement.
“Federal law does not require state and local law enforcement officers to ask about the immigration status of crime victims or witnesses,” the document states.
In a press release, Sorrell expressed his support for the policy reform.
“This is good news,” said Sorrell. “Now I hope more Vermont police departments will adopt bias-free policies that emphasize their primary role of enforcing Vermont criminal laws.”
The policy revision also comes as a relief to groups that advocate for an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 undocumented workers throughout the state, many of whom don’t have legal status in the country.
In Addison County, which has the largest agricultural production of any county in the state, dairy farmers say they are unable to find steady labor at home for the physically taxing jobs that demand long hours. Currently, fruit and poultry businesses with a seasonal demand for labor can — and do — get guest workers from abroad for short-term periods.
But dairy farmers need help year-round, and no federal program exists for this. While migrant laborers do present papers when they are hired, Bob Parsons, a UVM agricultural economist, said in a May interview that employees and employers alike generally have an understanding that the papers are forged.
Natalia Fajardo, a spokesperson for the Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project, said it’s counterproductive for a part of the state’s population to be afraid to seek help from law enforcement officers.
Fajardo cited a January incident in Franklin County in which an undocumented worker accidentally called VSP. Following protocol, VSP troopers arrived on the farm shortly afterward, along with Border Patrol agents they’d called in to act as translators. The incident resulted in the deportation of three of the farm’s employees.
Fajardo said she hopes the new policy will address issues like those.
“We hope it will translate to people feeling comfortable calling 911 to report a crime,” said Fajardo.
But the VMSFP has expressed concern about the policy’s exceptions near the U.S.-Canada border. Troopers may enlist help from and aid federal law enforcement officers in cases of border crossings in progress, or in cases where officers require protection.
In fact, the Vermont Department of Public Safety works in concert with ICE officers in areas near the U.S.-Canada border. The state receives federal funds to provide support for ICE officers near the border as part of Operation Stonegarden, a Department of Homeland Security grant program. In August, Sen. Patrick Leahy announced that the Vermont Department of Public Safety will receive $330,254 this year to “enhance the capabilities of federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to jointly secure U.S. borders and territories,” according to a DHS press release.State law enforcement spokespeople were not available to comment on the extent of local and state police work on the border before press time.
And the Department of Homeland Securities plans to roll out its Secure Communities program in all states by 2013. The Bush-era program authorizes local and state law enforcement to act as an arm of the federal government in immigration enforcement, encouraging those departments to turn over high-level criminal offenders who are in the country illegally to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In states where the policy is already in effect, however, the media has highlighted other incidents, from routine traffic stops to calls for relief from an abusive partner, that have led to deportation procedures against undocumented immigrants.
DHS has not yet approached Vermont about implementing Secure Communities in the state, but both the VMSFP and Shumlin acknowledge that the new VSP policy doesn’t address the greater issue: The press release calls for “a sensible and fair immigration policy on the national level.”
“What we’d all like to see is comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform,” said Fajardo.
The old and the new versions of the Vermont State Police bias-free policing policy may be viewed at addisonindependent.com.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at firstname.lastname@example.org.