Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Department of Public Safety announced a new policy today that effectively prohibits Vermont State Police from asking suspected illegal immigrants for papers unless they are suspected of another crime.
According to a press release, the new policy states that "Vermont State Police troopers should not try to identify people whose only suspected violation is that they are present in the United States without proper documentation, but also makes clear that officers should continue to investigate suspected criminal activity."
Previously, the state police's "bias-free" policy barred troopers from asking about immigration status only when a suspected immigrant was a crime victim or witness. Vermont’s dairy farms are heavily dependent on migrant labor; several thousand Latino workers are employed in Vermont dairies, legally and illegally.
Shumlin launched a review of state policy in September after two undocumented migrant farm workers, one of them an outspoken activist, were detained by state police during a traffic stop and turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol. The governor took heat from Republicans when he said afterward that Vermont's policy on immigration enforcement amounted to "look the other way."
The new policy was authored by Shumlin's former legal counsel Beth Robinson, who the governor recently appointed to the Vermont Supreme Court.
Shumlin's press release quotes Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn saying the policy will "ensure the fair and equal treatment of all individuals in Vermont." Attorney General William Sorrell, who has urged all Vermont police departments to adopt a policy akin to Shumlin's new one, said, "This is good news. Now I hope more Vermont police departments will adopt bias-free policies that emphasize their primary role of enforcing Vermont criminal laws."
The new policy includes "special provisions" for law enforcement operating near the Canadian border, allowing them to take action relating to "unlawful border crossings in progress, as well as to call for support from federal authorities when required to protect officer or public safety," the press release says.
Click here to read about a Franklin County dairy farmer near the Canadian border whose migrant workers were removed earlier this year after one them accidentally dialed 911.
The VT Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project, which launched a sustained lobbying effort to get the policy changed, welcomed the new policy as a "big step forward" but then expressed some fears about it.
"The policy has a number of exceptions to when police can ask about immigration status and engage in immigration enforcement," said Solidarity Project spokesperson Natalia Fajardo.