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Vermont AG comes out hard against Trump immigration policies

By   /   March 14, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 7 of 10 in the series Sanctuary Policies
Image courtesy of Center for Media and Democracy

DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL: Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan has come out hard against helping the federal government enforce immigration law.

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan on Tuesday filed an amicus brief with nine other attorneys general claiming that President Donald Trump’s revised immigration order is unconstitutional.

The brief was filed in the Federal District Court for Hawaii in support of that state’s request to stop the enforcement of the order. The order is set to begin on March 16.

“I am proud to stand with my fellow attorneys general in opposition to this Executive Order,” Donovan said in a press release. Donovan has opposed Trump’s immigration policies from the start, having also submitted a brief against the president’s original executive order in January.

The new brief argues that Trump’s executive order has damaged state economies by causing downturns in tourism. The brief cites tourism numbers from cities including New York and Los Angeles, but doesn’t say how Vermont’s tourism would be harmed.

According to the Vermont Tourism Research Center, about 82 percent of Vermont tourism is domestic while Canada supplies 90 percent of the state’s international visitors. Iran is the only travel-ban country with documented Vermont visits: In 2014, Iranians accounted for 0.15 percent of all visitors to Vermont welcome centers.

Trump’s ban on travel pertains to six countries with known terrorist ties, and is set to last four months.

Immigration enforcement guidelines

Last week, Donovan sent guidelines to Vermont law enforcement agencies on how to implement Vermont’s Fair and Impartial Policing policy, which has kept a low profile since it was created in 2016.

While federal law (8 U.S. Code § 1373) requires local law enforcement to share immigration information with federal agents, Donovan is creating a loophole by instructing law enforcement not to ask individuals for immigration status information, unless it is deemed essential to a criminal case. Under Donovan’s obstructionist version of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” if Vermont law enforcement don’t gather immigration status information to begin with, they can’t be accused of withholding information from the federal government.

Regardless of whether immigration status is crucial to solving a criminal case, studies have shown sharing immigration status can be a means to prevent crime.

According to a 2005 study put out by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, researchers found that out of a sample population of 55,322 illegal aliens who had been arrested on a criminal charge, the group averaged 8 arrests per alien. In total, the group was charged with a total of 700,000 criminal offenses. If such individuals are deported after their first criminal conviction, those crimes could be avoided.

The new guidelines go a step further than restricting officers to asking for immigration status when vital to a criminal case. Donovan also wrote that officers “should not voluntarily disclose confidential (immigration) information where such a disclosure may jeopardize someone’s health.” In 1973, the Supreme Court defined health in the case Doe v. Bolton to include physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing. This opens a second obstructionist loophole by which law enforcement officials can get around having to share information on illegal immigrants with federal agents.

Sheriffs told Watchdog the new guidelines may not have any immediate impact.

“We take them as suggestions rather than rules we’re obligated to follow. … But they really don’t apply to us. Very rarely do we reach out to immigration,” Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark said.

Windsor County Sheriff Michael Chamberlain agreed, saying, “We’ve had no need to interact with federal immigration — maybe 20 or 30 years ago, but we have no need where we’re located.”

Compared to other states, Vermont has a low percentage of illegal immigration. Between 2014 and 2016, the federal government sent only 26 detainer requests to the state. The requests ask local law enforcement to hold suspects for a maximum of 48 hours so they can be investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In the last two years, Vermont complied with all detainer requests, and ICE took four people into custody.

The guidelines from the attorney general argue that detainers are unconstitutional, citing a court case where local law enforcement had to pay a fine after holding a legal citizen under a detainer request.

Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank with strong ties to the Trump administration, told Watchdog that Vermont’s proposals constitute sanctuary policy. Trump has threatened to cut funding from sanctuary jurisdictions, and some Republican governors are already cutting local funding from sanctuary jurisdictions in their states.

RELATED: Travis County sanctuary penalty could run into millions

When Watchdog asked Washington County Sheriff W. Samuel Hill if his department will be able to keep its federal funding under the guidelines, he replied, “I don’t know. That’s a big concern in Vermont.”

On Town Meeting Day, Bennington, East Montpelier, Plainfield and Calais all adopted varied forms of sanctuary policies. Hill said those votes are concerning for law enforcement in those towns. “That’s our big question for those areas: Do we still get federal grants?”

RELATED: Small town of Plainfield adopts sanctuary status for illegal aliens

Both the attorney general’s office and the Vermont State Police denied Watchdog’s multiple requests for interviews.

Emma Lamberton is Vermont Watchdog’s health care and Rutland area reporter. Contact her at [email protected] or @EmmaBeth9.

Part of 10 in the series Sanctuary Policies

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Emma Lamberton is Vermont Watchdog’s health care and Rutland area reporter. She has written for the Rutland Herald and Times Argus, two of Vermont’s largest newspapers, and her work has published in The Washington Times, FoxNews.com and a number of local Vermont newspapers. She is also a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors. Emma is always looking for new stories. Readers are encouraged to contact her with tips and story ideas.