PLAINFIELD, Vt. — The rural community of Plainfield on Tuesday joined an increasing number of Vermont jurisdictions considered to be “sanctuary communities” for illegal aliens.
The change was adopted in a non-binding resolution put before voters on Town Meeting Day. The resolution passed by a 67-13 vote.
Andy Robinson, a local immigrant rights activist, led the effort by helping gather about 70 signatures to get the issue on the ballot.
“The goal here is to make sure Plainfield is perceived as a town that is considered welcoming and that immigrants here can feel safe,” Robinson told Watchdog.
The measure was taken up after careful consideration from legal experts from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and the attorney general’s office, Robinson said. He added that the main advice he received is that local authorities are not required to enforce federal immigration law. The measure essentially reiterates that Plainfield authorities are not required to do so.
James Simpson, a former analyst for the White House Office of Management and Budget who now focuses on immigration, the Plainfield resolution is little more than words on paper, but nonetheless sends a message.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s just a meaningless resolution or something that becomes an ordinance,” he said. “It all sends the same message, and that is that the official position on illegal aliens is that they are welcome here.”
Simpson says while most illegal immigrants are seeking a better life, the population as a whole is disproportionately more likely to be involved in crimes. As reported by Breitbart, U.S. Sentencing Commission data for fiscal year 2014 shows that while illegal aliens accounted for 3.5 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for 36.7 percent of federal sentences following criminal convictions.
Robinson said he understands Vermonters’ security concerns but thinks the vast majority of those coming in are law abiding. He added that Vermont needs to embrace new young workers and entrepreneurs to counterbalance the state’s aging population.
A concern for Plainfield and similar towns is whether the federal government will withhold discretionary grants from jurisdictions that refuse to help feds enforce U.S. immigration laws.
While total federal funding to sanctuary cities nationwide may be as high as $27 billion, the left-wing Center for American Progress and the American Immigration Lawyers Association released a report that states the portion of federal dollars that could be denied to sanctuary jurisdictions is $870,068,698.
Robinson said while he isn’t worried about the potential loss of federal funds, “it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.”
James Lyall, executive director of the Vermont American Civil Liberties Union, says Plainfield’s resolution is similar to those in other towns.
“I don’t know what the specific language of Plainfield’s resolution was, [but] it’s likely consistent with the other moves to affirm that those places and their public officials will respect the civil rights of immigrants,” he said.
While state and local authorities have for decades voluntarily helped feds identify illegal immigrants, Lyall claimed it is not legally a responsibility of local law enforcement to concern themselves with federal immigration enforcement.
Based on that distinction between what is legally required versus what is voluntary, about 600 cities and counties nationwide have adopted policies that mandate noncooperation from local police, investigators and other officials. Such noncooperation limits the ability of federal immigration authorities to identify and deport illegal immigrants.
Lyall said in some cases local police lack authority to pursue immigration enforcement, such as in asking for immigration status without appropriate probable cause. He said that Vermont police must adhere to “Fair and Impartial Policing,” a policy that prohibits police from gathering immigration status from suspects.
Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told Watchdog in a recent interview that refusing to give federal authorities information about immigration status is illegal. “If [the state] passes an ordinance saying police may not notify the federal government of immigration status, that is in clear violation of [federal law],” he said.
Robinson said he pushed the initiative in Plainfield as a response to the tough immigration rhetoric and policies out of the Trump administration. Lyall said it would be better if state legislators would pass laws so that smaller communities would not have to come up with their own resolutions.
Simpson said giving any immigrant a free pass is disrespectful to all the immigrants who come to the United States legally.
“It’s really an outrage,” he said. “All their effort, and this is really just making a fool of them.
“We go through all that stuff and then illegal aliens can just breeze on in and not merely have the door open but have their hand held and they are protected. It’s simply incredible.”
Robinson said while he sympathizes with the frustrations of those who go through the often-tedious legal immigration process, he said he also knows undocumented immigrants who have been waiting as long as five years, going through multiple background checks, and are still waiting.
“I think what we need is a more streamlined way,” he said.
Michael Bielawski is a freelance reporter for Vermont Watchdog. Contact [email protected]