While Gov. Phil Scott and other elected officeholders in Vermont have had harsh words for the federal executive orders that could restrict immigration to the United States, some legal advocates are calling for more concrete actions to protect immigrants living in the state.
For the 100 Syrian refugees who had been slated for resettlement in Rutland this year, the impact of Donald Trump’s temporary ban on their arrival is plain enough. Less clear, however, is what the executive orders signed by Trump last week mean for the immigrants and foreign nationals already living in Vermont.
“Utter chaos and confusion is what we’re facing right now," says Jared Carter, an assistant professor at Vermont Law School, and the director of the nonprofit Vermont Community Law Center in Burlington. "And I think that comes all the way down from the president and the order itself, the complete lack of clarity over who is impacted by the executive order, what those impacts are."
Carter says immigration and legal experts are still trying to understand how Trump’s orders will impact immigrants, including thousands of farm workers living in Vermont illegally. In the meantime, Carter says Vermont can take action at the state level to blunt the impact of Trump’s orders.
“Number one, the Legislature should pass a joint resolution unequivocally condemning the executive order and indicating that Vermont refuses to comply or enforce it directly or indirectly,” Carter says.
Carter says Scott should also issue an executive order of his own.
“He should direct his administrative agencies to refuse to comply with [Trump’s] orders either directly or indirectly,” Carter says.
James Lyall, the executive director of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, says “there’s no question it’s a really scary time for a lot of immigrants in this state and around the country.
“And it’s incumbent upon all of us to step up,” Lyall says.
Lyall says the governor and lawmakers can “step up” by ensuring that there’s no information sharing between the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles and federal immigration authorities.
Lyall says the state’s Department of Corrections should also disregard any request from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities to detain an individual without a finding of probable cause.
Lyall says there’s a role for municipal governments as well. Trump signed an executive order last week that calls for financial sanctions for so-called sanctuary cities. But Lyall says it’s a term without meaning. And instead of declaring sanctuary status, Lyall says cities and towns should instead adopt specific policy provisions to protect immigrants, even if they’re here illegally.
“For example, a city could pass an ordinance requiring that police not ask the immigration status of a crime victim or a witness to crime or anybody who they stop in the course of a routine law-enforcement stop,” Lyall says.
Lyall says municipalities who adopt those kinds of policies will remain on safe legal footing, since state and local police don’t have authority over immigration enforcement anyway.
Lyall says a more expansive application of fair-and-impartial policing policies would also help the cause.
He says there’s reason to believe that elements of Trump’s orders – particularly provisions that appear to favor the immigrations of Christians over Muslims – may well violate the U.S. Constitution.
“We need to be challenging unconstitutional actions at every level, in every branch of government, and in the streets,” Lyall says.
Lyall says the ACLU has challenged the constitutionality of immigration-related activities undertaken by the administrations of many past presidents, including Barack Obama.
“That said, some of what has come out of this administration already is alarming to an extent that we have not seen,” Lyall says.