Vermont Takes More Steps To Thwart Executive Orders On Immigration

Feb 7, 2017

As President Donald Trump tries to use his executive authority to impose heightened border-security measures across the United States, elected officeholders in Vermont are using a variety of legal maneuvers to thwart Trump’s new immigration policies.

Later this week, lawmakers will take up a bill that would limit local police departments’ roles in enforcing federal immigration laws.  

“We’re trying to follow the lead of many other states, California for example, in suggesting that we’re not going to use local law enforcement or state law enforcement to carry out the president’s orders on immigration,” says Bennington Sen. Dick Sears, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill comes in the wake of an executive order signed by Trump late last month that seeks to enlist state and local law-enforcement authorities in immigration enforcement activities.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott has already signaled his intent to bar state police agencies from participating in Trump’s border-security plans. But Scott’s office lacks the authority to impose similar prohibitions on local and county law enforcement.

The bill, still being drafted by Scott’s office and lawyers for the Legislature, will likely empower the governor with new discretion over local police forces, according to Sears.

"We're trying to follow the lead of many other states ... in suggesting that we're not going to use local law enforcement or state law enforcement to carry out the president's orders on immigration." — Bennington Sen. Dick Sears

Senate President Tim Ashe says the bill will also expand “fair and impartial policing policies,” already in place at the Vermont State Police, to include local police as well. The policies are designed to identify and root out police practices that result in people of color being disproportionately targeted by law enforcement.

“And I think we want to make sure that law enforcement are all operating under one unified approach that meets the values of both the governor and the Legislature,” Ashe says.

Meanwhile, Attorney General TJ Donovan has filed an amicus brief in support of Washington State’s federal lawsuit against one of Trump’s executive orders on immigration. The brief also supports a similar suit filed in Minnesota. 

Donovan, who filed the brief along with 15 other state attorneys general, says the brief “makes clear that the states have standing to challenge the immigration executive order because of the harm the order inflicts on the states themselves.”

And a new “Civil Rights and Criminal Justice Cabinet” convened by Scott in the wake of the executive orders is contemplating additional legal actions. Scott has said he thinks Trump’s orders may violate the U.S. Constitution; if members of the cabinet determine the orders are in violation of the Fourth or Tenth Amendments, then Scott says he’ll consider challenging the orders in federal court.

The Vermont Senate Tuesday also gave unanimous approval to a non-binding resolution that says the body “will oppose the weakening of federal laws that ensure and protect the rights of all Vermonters, regardless of a person’s ethnicity, legal residency status, place of birth, race, religion, or sexual orientation.”

Windham Sen. Jeannette White, who worked with Senate Minority Leader Dustin Degree to draft the resolution, says the resolution is a nod to events happening in Washington, D.C.

“I think given the current climate that seems to be coming out of Washington … seems to be spreading and giving rise to the thought that it’s OK to deny people’s rights, and that it’s OK to not treat them fairly,” White says.