Bill To Keep Vermont Police From Participating In Trump's Orders Gets Tri-Partisan Support

Feb 9, 2017

Elected officials of varying political persuasions in Vermont presented a unified front Thursday against immigration orders signed by President Donald Trump.

Republicans, Democrats and Progressives say that Trump’s border-security initiatives run afoul of the U.S. Constitution, and lawmakers say they’ll fast-track legislation to keep state and local police from participating in the president’s efforts.

The characters assembled in the governor’s ceremonial office for a press conference announcing the bill made for fascinating cross section of Statehouse politics.

There was a Republican governor and a Democratic attorney general. There was a Democratic Senate President alongside a Republican Senate minority leader. And there were Republican representatives, standing next to Democratic Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson, who made note of the political diversity.

“It’s not often that you see the House, the Senate, the administration and the attorney general, with tri-partisan support, standing here on the same page on such a critical issue,” Johnson says.

That critical issue, according to Gov. Phil Scott, is the spate of new border-security initiatives launched by Trump late last month.

“It’s increasingly clear that elements of these orders violate the constitutional rights of American citizens, and infringe on the state’s rights afforded by the Tenth Amendment,” Scott says.

"It's not often that you see the House, the Senate, the administration and the attorney general, with tri-partisan support, standing here on the same page on such a critical issue." — House Speaker Mitzi Johnson

The Tenth Amendment defines the relationship between state and federal governments. One of Trump’s orders contemplates the use of state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws. Scott says legislation introduced on Thursday will make sure that doesn’t happen.

“The federal government can’t deputize our law enforcement officers without some agreement with myself, the governor,” Scott says.

The bill would require the governor to sign off on any contract that would enlist state or local police in federal immigration enforcement, an arrangement Scott says he would oppose.

The legislation also prohibits police from collecting information about an individual’s race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin or immigration status.

Trump has indicated that he’d contemplate the creation of a national database of all Muslims. Attorney General TJ Donovan says the legislation ensures Vermont won’t play a role in that feeding that database, should it materialize.

"Our presence here today should underscore one point: Vermont will not be complacent, nor will Vermont be complicit, in what is federal overreach." — Attorney General TJ Donovan

“Our presence here today should underscore one point: Vermont will not be complacent, nor will Vermont be complicit, in what is federal overreach,” Donovan says.

While the tri-partisan support for the legislation represents a sweeping rebuke from Montpelier of Trump’s policies, not everyone is on board with the plan.

House Minority Leader Don Turner says members of his caucus share the goal of protecting immigrants, “as long as they’re here legally.”

But he says he and some other members of the caucus aren’t signing onto the measures just yet.

“And I think that people on the street need to understand that not everybody up here is 100 percent behind what’s being proposed,” Turner says.

Among the concerns, Turner says, is that Vermont would become a so-called sanctuary state.

"I think that people on the street need to understand that not everybody up here is 100 percent behind what’s being proposed." — House Minority Leader Don Turner

Scott says emphatically that Vermont is not becoming a sanctuary state. Though the designation doesn’t carry any legal meaning, Trump has threatened financial sanctions for jurisdictions that adopt sanctuary status.

Scott says there’s a possibility Vermont could face relatively modest federal financial penalties as a result of the bill. But he says efforts to reduce the flow of refugees and other immigrants to Vermont and the rest of the United States could be more economically damaging.

It’s unclear at this point whether Trump’s temporary ban on refuges from seven majority Muslim countries will stop the resettlement of 25 Syrian families who had been expected to arrive in Rutland this year.

“Over the past several years, an average of 200 employment-ready refugees have come to Vermont every year, and more than 50 businesses have been founded by refugees here in Vermont,” Scott says. “At a time when we are losing six workers every day and working to drive economic growth, these are incredibly important contributions to the state.”

Lawmakers say they hope to have the legislation to the governor’s desk in a matter of weeks.