Supporters of migrant farmworkers rally against Vt. deportations

Published: Jun. 21, 2022 at 6:17 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 22, 2022 at 10:37 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Ten migrant farmworkers are petitioning U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to stop their deportations, saying Vermont is their home and ICE has no legitimate reason to pursue their removal.

Standing with picket signs and flags, members of the group Migrant Justice gathered Tuesday outside the Burlington federal building to stop the deportation of 10 farmworkers.

“For many years, the immigrant community has been attacked by police and immigration enforcement. We are calling on ICE to apply the federal memorandum and close these deportation cases,” said the group’s Rossy Alfaro.

The men are asking ICE to apply federal guidelines issued last year by Homeland Security that protect noncitizens who exercise workplace rights. Some at the rally have been fighting to stay in Vermont for years. WCAX first met Ismael Mendez-Lopez back in 2019 when he was picked up by federal authorities in Derby while shopping at Walmart. He has been living and working in the U.S. for over a decade.

“This is the opportunity for the 10 of us who are involved in this to be able to close our cases. That is why we are fighting. Hopefully, after this we can become much calmer,” Mendez-Lopez said.

Activists say there is no reason ICE should deny their requests.

“These are 10 very clear-cut cases, and if ICE correctly applies the guidelines that they’ve been given, they should drop these cases immediately and stop the deportation of these 10 migrant justice members,” said Will Lambek with Migrant Justice.

Immigration lawyer and Vermont Law School professor Jill Rudge says cases like these are exactly why federal authorities changed the rules last year.

“Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen the immigration court docket balloon with millions of cases. The court system is basically at a standstill and for folks who are not an enforcement priority, the government has expressed in many agency documents a commitment to seeing those cases get off the docket so it can focus on its priority,” they said.

Rudge is encouraging other immigrant workers facing deportation to use this same legal strategy, although they say even if they get their cases dropped now, it doesn’t guarantee they won’t be targeted for deportation again.

As for Mendez-Lopez, he says he’s worried about getting deported because he has such a strong support system in Vermont.

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