Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Supports Legal Services For Undocumented Workers

Aug 25, 2017

Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Reiber is hoping to reach an agreement with federal immigration officials that would allow undocumented workers to access the state's legal system without the fear of being arrested.

In recent months, there have been several times when federal immigration officials have apprehended undocumented workers after the individuals had accessed Vermont's legal system.

In early April, Reiber wrote a memo to all court personnel in the state outlining his concerns about this situation.

Reiber says he wanted to make it clear that it's not the job of court employees to provide federal immigration officials with any non-public information concerning the time and date, and the nature of legal proceedings involving undocumented workers.

"My concern was that our folks were not being put in a position where it compromises their charge and their charge is our charge which is to serve the people of Vermont," said Reiber.

In his memo, Reiber wrote, "fear that deters anyone from using the courts to protect them from crime or domestic abuse makes all Vermonters less secure."

He also quoted from the Vermont Constitution to underscore his belief that every person who lives in the state of Vermont has a right to "free and unfettered access to justice under the law."

"The Constitution doesn't say only certain people should our courts be available to, the Constitution says every person." — Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Reiber

"The Constitution doesn't say only certain people should our courts be available to,” said Reiber. “The Constitution says every person and that's point that I was making with the memo. "  

Reiber notes that a special task force made of Chief Justices from around the country is working with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency — or ICE, as it's known — on these concerns. He hopes the group will be able to develop a compromise approach to this issue.

"And to come to a meeting of the minds I hope with respect to a protocol that ICE will adopt in respect to how it's agents conduct their business in and around our courts," said Reiber.  

Reiber says it's not his duty to debate federal immigration polices but to affirm that all people in Vermont have the right to access the state's court system without being intimidated.