WCAX News agreed not to show the farmworkers' faces
Burlington, Vermont - September 14, 2011
Danilo Lopez and Antonio Mesa-Sandovail were on their way to work at a Vermont farm when the car they were riding in was stopped for speeding on Interstate 89 in Middlesex. The farmworkers say a state trooper asked for paperwork and kept questioning them about their immigration status.
WCAX News got an exclusive interview with the farmworkers through a translator. They asked that we not show their faces fearing deportation.
"We are human beings. They shouldn't be doing that. They should not be doing that," Lopez said.
The men say they stayed silent except to make a phone call. Lopez says he notified the Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project, an advocacy group for migrant workers. Police say Lopez and Mesa-Sandovail are from Mexico and do not have papers to be here legally.
"The fear so many face when they are questioned about their immigration status, and I don't know if it's called racial profiling or what, but because of our look they called the border patrol," Lopez said.
The trooper brought the men to the Middlesex state police barracks where the men were handcuffed. The advocacy group staged a protest at the barracks, trying to prevent Lopez and Mesa-Sandovail from being brought to the Border Patrol Station in Richford for processing. Three of the protestors were arrested.
"We have no doubt it was racial profiling," said Natalia Fajardo of the Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project. "I have no doubt that if these folks were blond with blue eyes, those questions would not be asked."
Outside the border patrol, about two dozen demonstrators demanded the men's release. Eventually they were released and now face a court date in front of an immigration judge.
Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, has called for an investigation into the traffic stop to make certain state police bias-free policies were followed.
Vt. State Police Director Tom L'Esperance issued a statement saying, "The Vermont State Police take seriously the necessity of ensuring fair and humane treatment of all people living and working in Vermont, regardless of their race, ethnicity, immigration status, or other personal criteria."
Lopez and Mesa-Sandovail say they're just trying to work, just trying to feed their families back home and fear they'll now be deported.
"Yes, we fear that," Mesa-Sandovail said.
"Any person who comes to work in the U.S. is here to provide for their families a better life, to give them food and to get medical supplies to them, etc," Lopez added.
For now, both men say they will be back on the job working at the farm they did not want to name. It's unclear when they'll be in court.
The driver of the car is an American citizen and did have a valid driver's license.