Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, Gov. Phil Scott and Attorney General T.J. Donovan on Friday outside the governor’s office
Gov. Phil Scott said Friday that he will unveil legislation next week responding to President Donald Trump’s executive order halting refugee resettlement and banning immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries.
Vermont’s Republican governor made the announcement following the first meeting of his Civil Rights and Criminal Justice Cabinet, formed this week in the aftermath of the Trump’s edict. (One false note: While the cabinet's membership is somewhat diverse, all those who spoke to the media outside the governor’s Montpelier office were white men.)
Scott focused on one aspect of Trump’s order: a request that state and local authorities take part in immigration and border security efforts. The governor called that “a bit of an overreach” by the federal government. He has said that he would not agree to the request, and he doesn’t want local officials to deal separately with the feds.
“We are going to continue to work over the weekend on language that we will have introduced next week,” Scott said. His office said the bill would specify that only the governor can enter into such agreements on behalf of the state.
Further response to the Trump orders would have to occur within the narrow bounds of state authority, he added.
“That’s what this cabinet is trying to come to grips with,” Scott said. “What can we do to alleviate the fears of those who are here in the state while protecting our constitutional rights from the overreach of the federal government?”
When asked about the the potential for retribution from the Trump administration, Scott issued a cautionary note.
“That’s why we want to craft language to make sure that we’re on firm ground,” he said. “We rely on a great deal of federal funding in this state, so it has to be a concern.”
In the current fiscal year, the feds are on the hook for 35 percent of Vermont’s state budget.
Scott is one of a handful of Republican governors to take a stand against Trump. Indeed, Scott could name only three: Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Utah’s Gary Herbert and Ohio’s John Kasich. As an outlier in national GOP circles, Scott risks some blowback within his party.
“I’m hearing from some who think that [the Trump order] is the right step,” he acknowledged. “I would just offer that this could set a precedent in terms of federal overreach. And in this case they may agree with the president’s moves, but it could be something else important to them the next time.”
Members of Scott’s cabinet said that no one has been detained in Vermont under the Trump order, but several attested to the disruption of lives and a new climate of fear.
“It’s something that’s difficult to measure — the amount of fear that’s out there in the country and here in Vermont,” Scott said. “We’re going to do whatever we can to calm those fears.”
“The issue of harm is something we’re looking at and trying to garner information,” added Attorney General T.J. Donovan, a Democrat. “That’s part of our research for any potential legal action.”
On Thursday, Donovan’s office issued a call for Vermont lawyers to provide free legal services to those needing advice or representation in immigration and detention cases.
“In the finest traditions of the Vermont Bar, we want to assist Vermonters who are most vulnerable in our state and in our nation at this time,” Donovan said in a Thursday statement. “This is the moment to step up and help provide access to justice.”
The Vermont Bar Association joined in Donovan’s call and is offering immigration trainings to lawyers who want to provide free services for those caught up in the federal government’s heightened enforcement program.