Advocates say fair policing policy threatened by federal threats

Published: Dec. 11, 2017 at 4:34 PM EST
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Advocates in Vermont believe the state's fair and impartial policing policy is being weakened -- all because of political pressure from the Trump administration.

The Trump administration has been pressuring Vermont and other states to crack down on illegal immigration.

"Innocent Americans are at the mercy of criminal aliens because state and local officials defy federal authority and obstruct the enforcement of our immigration laws," President Trump said.

The Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council will vote Tuesday on an updated fair and impartial policing policy. ACLU of Vermont attorney Jay Diaz says rhetoric from the president -- and pressure from the Department of Justice -- led the council to weaken that policy. "Where it's being weakened, in particular, is around the protections for victims of crime and witnesses to crime," Diaz said.

Will Lambek of Migrant Justice says the revised policy creates loopholes where local law enforcement could collaborate with the feds on immigration enforcement. "In general, we feel that this policy should provide a clear firewall between Vermont local law enforcement and Trump's deportation agents," Lambek said.

Lambek says police in Vermont are aiding border patrol agents. He wants the policy to ensure they don't, but that conflicts with federal law. Migrant Justice obtained body camera footage of a Franklin County traffic stop in late August. The recording shows a deputy sheriff calling for federal agents and asking for help with identifying the driver. After arriving, the federal agents use a racial epithet to describe suspected undocumented immigrants. "It's a registration card in Mexico. He's a wet. He's gonna be what we're looking for," said the agent.

The Justice Department sent a letter last month demanding that the state defend its policing policy and explain why it does not violate federal law. The state is still crafting its response, but the council's Executive Director tells us changes were made because of that letter. "If we accepted the advocate language we'd be in violation of federal law or we would severely or significantly increase the public safety risk to Vermonters," said Richard Gauthier with the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council.

Governor Phil Scott says he doesn't believe the policy is being weakened. "We've been working on this issue for quite some time. I would be surprised if they're caving in to the Trump administration on this issue," he said.

Diaz and Lambek say they'll ask lawmakers to change the policy if the council does not.