ACLU of Vermont Response to Attorney General’s Threats to Defund “Sanctuary” Jurisdictions


March 28, 2017

MONTPELIER, VT—The ACLU of Vermont has issued the following response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ statement threatening federal funding for jurisdictions that “refus[e] to enforce our immigration laws.”

ACLU of Vermont executive director James Lyall: “This is yet another attempt by the Trump administration to intimidate local officials to take actions that jeopardize public safety and risk legal liability. Vermont’s municipalities and state agencies have no obligation or authority to enforce federal immigration law. The Attorney General’s scare tactics are legally indefensible and antithetical to our federal system of government.”

“Congress has never directed the President to defund states and localities that stay clear of the deportation business—and even if Congress tried that, coercing state and local governments to carry out federal policies would violate the Tenth Amendment and principles of federalism. Vermont officials should not allow themselves to be cowed or confused by the empty threats of an administration so hostile to constitutional norms and the rule of law.”

Sessions’ announcement suggests that 8 U.S.C. § 1373 requires localities to honor U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests, which the ACLU is rejecting as an extreme and legally indefensible position. ICE detainer requests are not approved by a judge and may put local police in the position of holding people in jail without legal authority, violating the U.S. and Vermont Constitutions.

ACLU of Vermont Staff Attorney Jay Diaz: “Vermont officials have a clear choice: they can bow to the false claims of Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration, or they can stand with Vermont communities. Officials who toe the Trump administration’s line on immigration should know that the ACLU stands with Vermont’s immigrant community, and will not hesitate to vindicate the civil rights of local residents, regardless of immigration status.”

Sessions’ statement follows the targeted arrests of Migrant Justice organizers by ICE agents in Vermont earlier this month. Those arrests have drawn widespread condemnation, including by Vermont’s congressional delegation. Those arrests and Sessions’ threat follow a pattern of other politically-motivated enforcement actions by ICE in other states.

The recent ICE arrests in Vermont were initiated the day after the legislature approved S. 79, a bill that requires the Governor’s approval for local agencies to enter into formal immigration enforcement agreements with ICE. The legislature is currently considering H.492, a bill that would create a racial justice oversight board and prohibit local police—who already lack immigration enforcement authority—from enforcing immigration law statewide.

ACLU of Vermont executive director James Lyall: “To be clear: there is nothing in H.492 or in Vermont’s existing fair and impartial policing policy that runs afoul of federal law, as the Vermont Attorney General and numerous Vermont law enforcement officials have long since concluded. Vermont should stand with its communities of immigrants and people of color and pass H. 492 to make fair and impartial policing the law of the land.”