Press Release: Stop the Deportations of the "Migrant Justice 10"

Vermont farmworkers petition ICE to stop their deportations

Burlington, VT.  Ten immigrant farmworkers stood in front of the U.S. Federal Building today to announce the filing of a joint petition to stop their deportations. Backed by supporters, the “Migrant Justice 10” called on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to apply federal guidelines that benefit non-citizens with a history of advocacy for labor and housing rights, and to close their deportation cases, allowing them to remain in the U.S. The press conference was livestreamed on Migrant Justice´s facebook page.

Pedro Ubaldo, one of the Migrant Justice 10, said: “I came to Vermont from Mexico when I was sixteen-years-old and have been working on dairy farms ever since. I was pulled over by ICE in 2019 for no reason and detained. Now they are trying to deport me to Mexico, but my life is here. I am fighting to stay in Vermont to provide for my family and organize with my community for a better future.”

Pedro’s background is typical of the group. The ten men are from Mexico and have lived in Vermont for years, primarily working and living on dairy farms. Some, like Pedro, were pulled over while driving. Others were detained while shopping for food or wiring money to their families. One was detained after leaving a dentist appointment. All have since been released from ICE custody on bond, yet they remain in deportation proceedings.

They are also active members of Vermont-based human rights organization Migrant Justice. The petition details their backgrounds advocating for labor and housing rights for farmworkers. Among the group are leaders in successful campaigns to expand access to driver’s licenses, stop police discrimination, and pass equitable Covid relief. Members of the Migrant Justice 10 have also been instrumental in the development of Milk with Dignity, the efforts that brought Ben & Jerry’s into the program, and the ongoing campaign to expand Milk with Dignity into the supply chain of Hannaford Supermarkets.

Now the farmworkers are taking action again, this time by filing a petition with ICE to close their cases and allow them to stay in the country. The petition cites a memorandum from Department of Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas to the immigration agency, instructing agents to use discretion in enforcement activities like detention and deportation.

The memorandum, which took effect late last year, prohibits officials from targeting activists. Mayorkas writes: “A noncitizen' s exercise of their First Amendment rights also should never be a factor in deciding to take enforcement action.” The guidance additionally establishes that a “noncitizen's exercise of workplace or tenant rights, or service as a witness in a labor or housing dispute, should be considered a mitigating factor in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.”

The memo’s protections for immigrants advocating for their rights followed outcries against ICE’s well-documented surveillance and targeting of activists and community organizations. Immigrant farmworkers in Vermont are no strangers to such practices: between 2016 and 2018, ICE agents in Vermont surveilled Migrant Justice, including through the use of confidential informants, and arrested 20 of the organization’s members and leaders. The agency’s campaign of targeted retaliation against the human rights organization caused Migrant Justice to file a 2018 lawsuit to stop ICE targeting of community leaders. 

Migrant Justice’s lawsuit settled in 2020 with ICE dropping deportation cases against the plaintiffs, paying restitution, and prohibiting agents from targeting Migrant Justice and its members based on First Amendment-protected activities. Following the 2020 election, Migrant Justice and other immigrant rights organizations met numerous times with members of President Biden’s transition team and administration to educate officials about ICE’s history of targeting. The resulting policy goes further than that of any previous administration to prohibit the use of immigration detention and deportation as retaliation against workers and activists.

Rossy Alfaro, a leader of Migrant Justice, said: “We have fought hard to protect the right to organize and ensure that those who speak out against injustice aren’t detained and deported. We sued ICE to stop their persecution of Migrant Justice and helped create new national policy. Now we are calling on ICE to follow the policy and stop these deportations. We’re taking this action to show that we don’t need to be afraid to organize, to defend our rights and improve our lives as farmworkers.”

Speakers at Tuesday’s press conference included Joan Javier-Duval, minister of the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, and Harrison Stark, staff attorney at the ACLU-VT. Both speakers celebrated the actions of the Migrant Justice 10 and pledged their support to ongoing efforts that pressure ICE to apply the federal guidelines and drop the deportation cases.

Elected officials also backed the effort, with several submitting letters to ICE alongside the petition, including Vermont Senators Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, Representative Peter Welch, Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray, and State’s Attorneys Sarah George and Todd Shove.

In her letter, Attorney George wrote: “All ten individuals are valued community members in Vermont. As agricultural workers, they are sustaining the farms that are so central to our state’s economy and rural character. During the pandemic, they have been the essential workers who have kept our grocery shelves stocked and our families fed. And as members of Vermont-based community organization Migrant Justice, they have strong and well-documented histories exercising their workplace and tenant rights. As a State’s Attorney in Vermont, I join with others in respectfully requesting the favorable exercise of prosecutorial discretion in the cases of [the Migrant Justice 10] so that they may remain with their community in Vermont.”