Should police be allowed to share people's immigration status with feds?

NORWICH, Vt. (WCAX) Should local police officers be allowed to share a person's immigration status with federal authorities? In the Upper Valley, several communities are taking it to a vote.

The town of Norwich is another community in the Upper Valley that is taking its police department's immigration policy to voters.

"I believe this is a very American thing to do," said Liz Blum of Norwich.

Liz Blum and Sharon Racusin say their town's police policy, when it comes to immigrants, needs to change. They rounded up enough signatures, 10% of residents, to put it to a vote on Town Meeting Day.

Blum specifically cited the need to protect the increasing number of migrant workers at dairy farms across the region.

"It's about who we are as people and what we believe and what direction we would like to see our state and country go in," Blum said.

A large protest in Hartford this past summer, which blocked traffic for hours, drew attention to the debate. Residents there will also be voting on that town's immigration policy in March.

The Norwich residents say it's what inspired them to act.

"We want to send the most positive message and the most protective message that this is a community that wants you to come here. We want you to come spend money here, let's be honest," Racusin said.

Police officers in both Norwich and Hartford already abide by Vermont's Fair and Impartial Policing Policy. Local and state police currently do not ask a person's immigration status during a stop. But the policy does not prohibit law enforcement officers from sharing information with the federal government.

"I need people to know it's not what we do here in Norwich. We don't seek out people for their immigration status, nor do we seek out federal authorities to share that information," Norwich Police Chief Jennifer Frank said.

However, a new policy-- if approved by voters-- would specifically block the sharing of information. That's something that gives this police chief pause, not only in terms of the possible loss of federal funding but also her officers' ability to do their jobs.

"We also have some pretty strong concerns that prohibiting them would put us in direct violation of federal law," Frank said. "We are law enforcement officers; our job is to enforce the law. And to create a policy that would be specifically contrary to that doesn't seem to make a lot of sense in a police department."

The city of Lebanon is considering a similar ordinance in its community which will be addressed in further detail at Wednesday night's City Council meeting.