As questions swirl about the fate of immigration policy in the United States, Attorney General TJ Donovan is launching a task force to explore whether Vermont can blunt the impact of executive orders signed by President Donald Trump.
Trump signed two executive orders Wednesday, including one that would strip federal funding to cities that limit cooperation with immigration-enforcement authorities.
Trump is expected to sign a third order Wednesday related to the immigration of refugees. Several news organizations report that a draft order calls for the suspension of a refugee program facilitating the resettlement of 100 Syrians in Rutland this year.
“Many Vermonters have approached me with questions about what’s going to happen, specifically in the area of immigration,” Donovan said at a Statehouse press conference Wednesday. “The short answer is, we don’t know.”
Officials in the office of Sen. Patrick Leahy say it’s unclear at this point whether executive orders from Trump will impact Syrian refugees slated to resettle in Vermont.
“I think it’s fair to say the senator has very strong concerns on the broad range of issues in these three executive orders that we’ll be taking a close look at,” Diane Derby, a field representative for Leahy, said Wednesday.
Derby says Leahy’s office is working this week to understand what the executive orders mean for 100 Syrians scheduled to arrive in Rutland this year. Two families have already arrived.
Derby says the Democratic senator is also worried about the impact of Trump’s orders on farm workers living in Vermont illegally. She says Leahy’s office will be looking into the constitutionality of any orders Trump signs.
Donovan says immigration laws fall exclusively under federal jurisdiction, and that it’s unclear whether Vermont can do anything to offset the impact of the executive orders. He also says it might not be a good idea for Vermont cities to seek sanctuary city status.
“Saying, 'We’re a sanctuary city,' without doing any of the work — in terms of the policy work — is frankly misleading, and I think people need to be very careful about the language we use in terms of addressing these issues," he says.
Donovan’s admonitions came hours before Trump officially signed an executive order that targets cities that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
Burlington, Montpelier and Winooski have all moved toward getting sanctuary city designation. But Donovan says the designation doesn’t carry any legal status. And he says municipalities should focus on internal policies related to immigrants, as opposed to getting sanctuary designations.
Donovan’s immigration task force will have 11 members, including lawyers, law-enforcement officials and human-rights experts.
The panel includes Karen Richards, executive director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission. Richards says all residents of the state have a vested interest in thwarting the deportation of the thousands of people living in Vermont illegally.
“I think it’s very important that we figure out how we can best protect all citizens of our state who are contributing in many, many, many ways to our economy,” Richards says.