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Watts: Immigration

Early one morning last month - at five o’clock - 14 construction workers were arrested by immigration officials at a Colchester motel.

In Vermont, it was the largest raid of its kind so far and most of the men will likely be deported, taking their labor with them - and suspending the paychecks that have been feeding their families. Here in Vermont, the construction company will scramble to fill jobs in an economy with record low unemployment.

Official policy used to focus on workers who are believed to have entered the country illegally with criminal records or posed a threat to society. That clearly has changed.

The current administration’s immigration authorities have arrested more than three hundred thousand people – most of whom will end up being deported. And many of the cases are heart-breaking. In Texas, authorities are expected to arrest Jesus Barrones, who’s lived here for 29 years. He’s the sole breadwinner for his family of six, and his youngest child has leukemia.

Here in Vermont, there’s an arrest about once a week and scenes like that in Colchester may become increasingly frequent – and according to recent news reports, anxiety is high – particularly on the state’s dairy farms.

An estimated two thousand immigrants provide the labor that makes Vermont’s dairy industry run - milking cows, shoveling manure, cutting hay and so on.

Typical days on a dairy farm start as early as two thirty in the morning with cows that have to be milked three hundred and sixty five days a year. As much as three quarters of Vermont’s milk passes through the hands of recent immigrants.

As Congress debates sending back the dreamers - immigrants who came as kids and grew up here – it’s important to remember that immigrants are half as likely to commit a crime as native born Americans. The more immigrants in the community the less crime. The reason is obvious, immigrants are here to improve their lives. And in doing so they enrich all of lives.

The new Federal approach goes well beyond arresting criminals. And in the Colchester raid, no local police were involved, since Vermont’s Fair & Impartial Policing Act keeps state law enforcement out of the deportation business.

And until some normalcy is returned to federal immigration policy, I hope any effort to weaken this law will be resisted.

Richard Watts teaches communications and public policy in the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Vermont and directs the Center for Research on Vermont. He is also the co-founder of a blog on sustainable transportation.
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