Recently obtained video shows Vermont police collaborating with Border Patrol in traffic stop as police officials set to vote on removing key immigrant rights protections from state law

December 7, 2017


Jay Diaz, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Vermont: [email protected]; (802) 223-6304 x113

Will Lambek, Organizer, Migrant Justice // Justicia Migrante: [email protected]; (802) 321-8393

PITTSFORD—On Tuesday, December 12, the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council (VCJTC) will vote on an updated, significantly weakened version of the state’s Fair and Impartial Policing policy, a move that has drawn sharp criticism from stakeholders involved in drafting the original policy, including the ACLU of Vermont, Justice for All, and Migrant Justice.  The vote will follow release of recently-obtained bodycam video footage from a Franklin County Sheriff Department traffic stop of two dairy workers, showing deputies calling Border Patrol and aiding in the detention of the immigrant farmworkers.

Migrant Justice spokesperson Enrique Balcazar: “The police are opening the door to discriminate against immigrants, just as new evidence comes to light showing the need for strong protections. Why would Vermonters allow their police officers to help Trump deport dairy workers and separate families? We have fought to come out of the shadows and we expect more from the state's political leaders.”

Among other changes, the revised policy would allow Vermont police to refer witnesses or victims of crime to ICE, raising concerns that undocumented residents will not report crimes out of fear that interactions with police could lead to detention and deportation.

The VCJTC has acknowledged that changes to the policy are motivated in part by the Trump Administration’s threats to withhold Justice Department grants from cities and states that adopt so-called “sanctuary” policies. Other localities have rejected those threats as without legal merit. In November, a federal judge ruled that the Department of Justice could not withhold funds from Philadelphia because it refused full cooperation with federal authorities on immigration.

ACLU of Vermont staff attorney Jay Diaz: “To be absolutely clear—we are not asking Vermont to thumb its nose at federal law. Regarding the FIP Policy, the Justice Department has no lawful basis to withhold funding from Vermont, especially for policies that ensure the safety of all Vermonters. Vermont should not be fooled by empty threats, nor should our law enforcement officials cave to the bullying of Jeff Sessions. Rather, we should join the growing number of states standing up to the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant agenda.”

The Council is also considering a change in policy that would allow police operating “near” the Canadian border to refer anyone they suspect of crossing the border to U.S. Border Patrol. Advocates have voiced their concerns to the Council that this provision will inevitably result in racial profiling and other civil rights violations. 

In addition to the newly released video footage showing Franklin County Sheriff Department detaining two dairy workers and waiting for Border Patrol to arrive, Migrant Justice and the ACLU continue to receive and investigate reports of abuses resulting from the entanglement of Vermont police in immigration enforcement.

Similar cases have been documented in Vermont over the past several years. Last year, the ACLU settled the case of a 10-year Vermont resident following his unlawful detention by Vermont DMV officials acting in collaboration with ICE agents. In 2015, a Vermont police officer detained farmworker Lorenzo Alcudia, who was a passenger in a car, before transferring him to Border Patrol custody. 

Other abuses like these led to the creation of Vermont’s first unbiased policing policy in 2014. The Vermont legislature directed the Council to finalize a Fair and Impartial Policing policy in 2016, in consultation with community stakeholders. The policy originally contained non-binding provisions, and state agencies adopted inconsistent versions. Earlier this year, the legislature directed the Council to finalize the policy to be binding on all Vermont law enforcement agencies for the first time.

Since that time, civil rights organizations have attempted to engage the Council to preserve the policy in its entirety, and an online petition demanding that the original protections remain in place has garnered more than 1,000 signatures.

ACLU of Vermont community organizer Nico Amador: “Vermont has an opportunity to stand up to the Trump administration and ensure that Vermont’s resources are directed to fostering healthy communities, not the deportation of our families, friends, and neighbors. We call on Vermont’s leaders, including Governor Scott and Attorney General Donovan, to reject the Trump administration’s efforts to divide us.”

The Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council will meet to vote on the updated policy at a public meeting on December 12th, 2017 at 9:00 a.m. at the Vermont Fire Academy in Pittsford.