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It's Law: Vermont Limits The Role Of Local Cops In Federal Immigration Enforcement

Taylor Dobbs
Republican Gov. Phil Scott commended the Legislature's work to to defend against federal overreach as House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, left, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Dick Sears and Attorney General TJ Donovan, all Democrats, looked on.

From his ceremonial office in the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier, Republican Gov. Phil Scott sent a clear message to Washington that Vermont police will not be part of the Trump administration’s efforts to arrest and deport people who are living in the country illegally.Audio for this story will be posted.

A new law Scott signed Tuesday afternoon makes it illegal for any Vermont law enforcement agency to enter into a formal enforcement agreement with federal immigration authorities, unless that agency gets permission from the governor.

“I believe this law provides assurances to Vermonters that our state and local law enforcement officials will not be deputized for new and expanded federal enforcement functions,” Scott said at a news conference just before signing the bill.

The formal agreements in question have never existed in Vermont, but the new law makes it certain that no local agencies will enter new agreements without explicit permission from the state’s top elected official.

The law would also makes it illegal for the state to share data with the federal government if that data is requested for the explicit purpose of creating a registry of people based on “sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, race, color, religion, national origin, immigration status, age, or disability.”

Credit Taylor Dobbs / VPR
Gov. Phil Scott signed Senate Bill 79 into law Tuesday, limiting the role of Vermont police in federal immigration enforcement.

That provision would bar the state from helping in the creation of a national Muslim registry, which President Trump has called for in the past.

The Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union raised concerns about the new law, noting that Vermont police have been cooperating with federal immigration authorities for years, even in the absence of the formal agreements that the new law bans.

In the Statehouse, the bill had strong support across the political spectrum, including from Attorney General TJ Donovan, a Democrat, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a Progressive-Democrat. Surrounded by lawmakers who helped pass the bill, and other top officials, Scott said the legislation sends an important message to people in Vermont that the state government — including law enforcement — is working to protect their rights.

“We all — every one of us — took an oath to uphold the constitution of the state of Vermont and the Constitution of the United States,” Scott said. “And you can't pick and choose, you know? This time it's the Fourthand the Tenth [Amendments], then it's the First, then it's the Second.”

Federal immigration policy took on local urgency earlier this month when Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials arrested three activists connected to the group Migrant Justice. Two of the activists were released on bail Tuesday after hearings in Boston, and have returned to Vermont.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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