MONTPELIER, Vt. — While the Vermont House on Tuesday voted to bar state agencies from outing illegal immigrants to feds, dissenting Republican representatives said Vermont shouldn’t obstruct enforcement of U.S. immigration law.
“This is half baked political grandstanding. I think this bill is a nod and wink trying to establish a beachhead for a sanctuary state,” state Rep. Job Tate, R-Mendon, told Watchdog after the House passed S.79 by a 110-24 roll call vote.
The legislation would make it illegal for Vermont officials to share residents’ “personally identifying information” with federal officials. That information includes, among other things, immigration status, national origin, religion, race and color — information critical for identifying and potentially detaining illegal immigrants.
Tate said sponsors intentionally kept the bill vague and left many terms undefined while ignoring larger repercussions of the bill.
Since the bill potentially leads to withholding information from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, it risks violating federal law. To clarify what happens if implementing the legislation does conflict with federal law, the bill states: “To the extent any State or local law enforcement policy or practice conflicts with the lawful requirements of 8 U.S.C. §§ 1373 and 1644, said policy or practice is, to the extent of such conflict, abolished.”
Other Republican lawmakers expressed concerns about the tone of the bill and the sanctuary attitude it supports, regardless of what’s explicitly stated.
“I expressed my concerns right up front about the message this sends to our law enforcement officials,” House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, told Watchdog. “I don’t believe in selective law enforcement.”
The bill comes hand-in-hand with instructions from Attorney General TJ Donovan for law enforcement officials to stop asking or investigating a suspect’s immigration status.
“The bill is not addressing real risk,” said state Rep. Vicki Strong, R-Albany.
Noting that Trump’s immigration and travel ban policies are crafted as public safety measures, Strong said Scott and many lawmakers are taking the “soft road.”
“My son was killed in Iraq,” Strong said. “This is a real, evil war. [Trump’s policies] are trying to keep the country safe.”
Since his inauguration, Scott, a Republican, has broken ranks with his party on the issue of immigration enforcement. The move has forced many state lawmakers to choose between loyalty to the governor and loyalty to the constituents who elected them.
Tate says he backs the governor’s fiscally conservative economic policies, but the support stops there.
“It puts us in an odd position. My constituents think this legislation is a bad idea. I’ll always go with my constituents,” Tate said.
The governor met with the House Republican caucus twice and individually pulled aside members to pitch the bill.
“He [acknowledged] a number of times that we have to represent our constituents,” Turner said.
Strong says that’s advice the governor needs to heed for himself: “I’m disappointed in our Republican Governor. There should have been more working together on this.”
Emma Lamberton is Vermont Watchdog’s health care and Rutland area reporter. Contact her at [email protected]@EmmaBeth9.
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