Victory! Vermont strengthens “No Polimigra” protections

In 2017, when Donald Trump took the presidency and made attacks against immigrant communities and “Sanctuary Cities” a cornerstone of his administration, Vermont policy-makers and law enforcement officials buckled under the threats and watered down protections for immigrant rights in the state. After years of pressure from Migrant Justice – and with the threat of another Trump presidency looming – the state has now reversed course and strengthened policy. While the changes still leave out some key protections, they represent a significant victory for immigrant rights in Vermont.

Migrant Justice and others have campaigned over the past decade to pass laws requiring all police departments in Vermont to adopt Fair and Impartial Policing Policies (FIPPs) prohibiting discrimination. We have fought to ensure that these policies protect immigrant communities by stopping the harmful collaboration between local law enforcement and federal deportation agencies – a practice known as “Polimigra.”

The Vermont Criminal Justice Council watered down the statewide model policy under threats from the Trump Administration in 2017. These loopholes have resulted in horrifying incidents where Vermont police have turned immigrants over to ICE and Border Patrol, resulting in their detention and deportation. In one such incident, Vermont State Police handed transgender farmworker Durvi Martinez to Border Patrol. Durvi was held for months in abusive conditions in a men’s detention center before being deported. With deteriorated health from the months of abuse, Durvi died soon after being deported.

Migrant Justice has worked to close the FIPP’s loopholes, to prevent actions like those that led to Durvi’s death. Starting in 2018, and facing roadblocks at the state level, we began encouraging local communities to strengthen their own FIPPs. In total, nine jurisdictions around the state adopted Migrant Justice’s version of the policy, closing the loopholes in the state’s watered down version.

With enhanced “No Polimigra” alternatives implemented in police departments around the state, Migrant Justice returned to the Criminal Justice Council to once again advocate for an end to the Trump-era loopholes in the statewide model FIPP. We spent years testifying, building support, and negotiating with decision-makers. Immigrant leaders faced significant resistance – including interruption by a racist outburst from a police officer at a meeting earlier this year – but were ultimately successful in pushing through improvements to the model Fair and Impartial Policing Policy.

Even with the watering down of the policy, the model FIPP contained a number of protections that had been won in previous years: a general prohibition on police investigating immigration status, holding people on ICE’s behest, or collaborating in immigration checkpoints and raids. Those protections were undermined, however, by a number of loopholes. The newly-won policy closes many of those loopholes and includes the following expanded protections:

Keep ICE out of police stations: Police can no longer give federal immigration officials free access to people in custody. That means that police stations can no longer be used as de facto holding cells for ICE and Border Patrol, and traffic stops can no longer be used as opportunities to turn immigrants over to deportation agents.

Close the “Border Crossing Loophole”: Police can no longer duck prohibitions on investigating immigration status by claiming to investigate “unlawful entry.” The policy prevents officers from investigating border crossings or making arrests, except in limited circumstances.

Ensure equal treatment for immigrant arrestees: When police conduct an arrest, they can no longer discriminate against suspects due to immigration status. Specifically, police can no longer decide to hold someone – rather than release them with a court summons – based on their immigration status. During booking, individuals will not be required to provide a social security number, and not providing one will not be seen as evidence of citizenship or immigration status.

No Requirements for Passenger IDs: Police can not require passengers in motor vehicle stops to identify themselves, unless they are suspected of criminal activity. If requesting IDs, they must state that it is optional and that not providing an ID is not itself suspicious activity.

Restrict information sharing with deportation agents: In most instances, police are prohibited from sharing information with federal immigration authorities. There remain, however, two loopholes to this restriction.

  1. Police can still share information when they claim it is for “public or officer safety” or “law enforcement needs.” While we succeeded in more narrowly defining these terms and including new protections, these broad carve-outs remain in place.
  2. Police can still communicate “information related to citizenship or immigration status” with deportation agencies without restriction. However, the updated policy discourages such information sharing and strictly defines the term, limiting the damage done by this loophole.

We celebrate this victory while recognizing that the changes fall short of what immigrant communities need and deserve. In its final deliberations, the Criminal Justice Council rejected recommendations from its own Fair and Impartial Policing subcommittee that would have strengthened the policy even more, closing the two final loopholes above.

Our focus now turns towards implementation, to ensure that law enforcement agencies properly adopt, train to, and hold officers accountable to the updated policy. No actions can undo the harm caused by past collaboration, but the new policy will be a key tool to protect immigrant rights in Vermont in the years to come