Burlington City Council votes to protect undocumented citizens

Published: Mar. 10, 2020 at 12:19 AM EDT
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The Burlington City Council Monday voted in favor of a resolution that aims to ensure police do not report immigrants to federal immigration agents.

The council voted 11 to 1 on after two hours of debate and public comment from protesters pushing for the passage of the resolution.

The resolution, written by Councilor Perri Freeman, P-Central District, seeks to amend the city’s fair and impartial policing policy to make it unlawful for police to share information regarding someone’s citizenship status with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It also seeks to close any loopholes that would allow officers to do so.

The city adopted the policy in 2017. Since then, members of the immigrants’ rights group Migrant Justice have identified language in the policy that they say leaves immigrants vulnerable.

Protesters argued that immigrants deserve to live in Burlington without fear of deportation or fear that police are working in tandem with ICE.

Before the vote came down, Burlington Police Interim Chief Jennifer Morrison and Deputy Chief Jon Murad spoke before council to share their concerns with the resolution.

Morrison advised councilors not to pass it because she says it will put the police and Mayor Miro Weinberger in direct violation of federal law. She also said it will open up the police department to a liability exposure for being in violation of the law.

Morrison told councilors passing the resolution would put the department at risk of losing federal funding of $39,000 and $625,000 of a COPS Office grant.

“Passing a policy at this council level that places its police department in violation of federal law is not only a bad idea. It is a dangerous precedent,” said Morrison.

Morrison also defended the police department’s current policy and denied officers collaborate with ICE.

“Our current policy protects immigrant rights better than the state model policy and the Burlington Police Department has been actively engaged in this issue for decades,” said Morrison. “Burlington police officers have never acted as deputies for federal immigration officials and we never will. That’s a fact. We have no intention of acting on behalf of the federal government. We are a community-based policy organization.”

Murad denied Burlington police officers profile citizens or pull people over solely on suspicion that they are not U.S. citizens.

“Officers may not inquire about a person’s civil immigration status unless civil immigration status is necessary to the ongoing investigation of a criminal offense. And that is a criminal offense being conducted either with the person as a victim or as a witness or a suspect. Otherwise there is no asking about these statuses nor is there any reporting of these statuses,” said Murad.

“This vote means a lot to us. It means protection and safety. It means we can be in Burlington without fear that the police are going to arrest us and turn over to immigration. It means everything,” said Rosy Alfaro with Migrant Justice.

The policy will become effective when Mayor Weinberger signs it.