Winning new federal protections, while Vermont blocks change

While Migrant Justice is winning immigrant rights protections on the federal level, officials in our home state of Vermont are blocking policy that would stop local police from collaborating with ICE and Border Patrol. A state agency is meeting tomorrow to consider our policy recommendations and we need your help to push them to do the right thing.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) 10-11am: Join the zoom meeting of the Vermont Criminal Justice Council to support immigrant farmworkers demanding protection and equal treatment.

In 2018, we sued ICE to stop the agency’s targeting of Migrant Justice and our leadership. We were successful. The government was forced to end its deportation cases against the plaintiffs and to instruct agents “to not profile, target on account of, or discriminate against any individual or group for exercising First Amendment rights.” ICE’s years-long campaign against Migrant Justice – which included surveillance and the use of informants, and which resulted in the detention of dozens of members – came to an end.

The Biden Administration has now released new national guidelines for immigration agents. They include a provision that immigrants’ “exercise of their First Amendment rights should never be a factor” in their detention or deportation and provide that the “exercise of workplace or tenant rights ... should be considered a mitigating factor” in their case. 

In other words: speaking out to defend your rights no longer paints a target on your back. On the contrary, it may provide protection against deportation.

These protections would not have happened without pressure from Migrant Justice and others. As Biden took office, farmworker leader and lawsuit plaintiff Enrique Balcazar met with DHS Secretary Mayorkas and other top officials to denounce ICE’s rights violations and demand an end to the targeting of community leaders and human rights defenders. These interventions were key in bringing about the new policy.

But let’s be clear: while the guidelines provide new and useful tools for immigrant communities to defend themselves, they don’t go nearly far enough. So long as migration is criminalized and agencies like ICE exist, immigrant communities will continue to be terrorized by detention and deportation. And too often, local police are willing accomplices.

Over the summer, a sergeant with the Orleans County Sheriff Department in Vermont pulled over Lorenzo, an immigrant dairy worker, on a traffic stop.

Using bodycam footage and police reports obtained by Migrant Justice, Vermont Public Radio published an exposé of the traffic stop and the failure of Vermont’s “Fair and Impartial Policing Policy” to prevent harmful collaboration between police and immigration agents.

Throughout the course of the stop, multiple officers colluded in an attempt to get Border Patrol agents to detain Lorenzo. “I believe this person is still probably illegal here,” the sergeant tells a colleague, “so they [Border Patrol] can still 76 [stay en route] and I’ll chat with them.” 

Officers received coaching from a Border Patrol agent on how to circumvent the Fair and Impartial Policing Policy and exploit its loopholes. As an agent begins talking about the “magic words” in the policy, the sergeant turns off his body cam to stop recording. It was likely only due to officers’ errors – and Migrant Justice’s intervention – that Lorenzo was able to leave before Border Patrol arrived.

Vermont cannot have a policy that hinges on an officer knowing the “magic words” and expect that policy to protect people's rights. Join Migrant Justice 10-11am tomorrow to tell the VT Criminal Justice Council that it’s time to close the loopholes and protect immigrant rights.

“The truth is that we live in fear knowing that police are collaborating with immigration when that shouldn't keep happening,” Noé, a farmworker leader, told the VPR reporter who broke the story. “But we're going to keep fighting so that the police don't violate our human rights. Because we are human beings, too, and we deserve equal treatment.”

Don’t let Noé fight alone. If you can’t make it to the meeting, respond to this email with a brief statement of support. We will compile them and share them with policy-makers at tomorrow’s meeting. Because what happened to Lorenzo shouldn’t happen to anyone ever again.