Vermont stops courthouse immigration arrests!

Governor Phil Scott has signed into law S.140, a bill introduced by Migrant Justice to prohibit immigration arrests at Vermont courts. Vermont now becomes one of a handful of states to protect immigrant rights at courthouses.

In recent years, ICE has staked out courthouses around the state to detain and deport immigrants appearing for hearings. Agents have arrested people in courtrooms, on courthouse steps, and in court parking lots. One of those affected was Beto Sanchez, who recently spoke at a recent press conference:

“When I went to my hearing, everybody in the courtroom but me knew that ICE was there to arrest me. I spent three and a half months in detention before I was finally released. When people ask me if they should go to court, I don’t know what to tell them. We want to do the right thing but it’s not fair that just by going to court we can be arrested and deported.”

These arrests have a chilling effect on the community. ICE’s presence means immigrants are less likely to file restraining orders; to attend a hearing in a criminal case as a defendant, victim, or witness; to go to court for family matters like custody or child support, or to sue an abusive landlord or discriminatory employer. The threat of immigration detention is a serious barrier to accessing justice.

No more. The new law prohibits government agents from detaining someone for a civil process – including most immigration detentions – at or near a courthouse, or on their way to or from court. Any official violating the law can be held in contempt of court and sued for damages by the individual detained and the state of Vermont.

Farmworker leader Olga Cruz, who provided key testimony in support of the bill, celebrated the law’s passage: “This is a big step forward, but it’s only a step in a larger fight to protect our rights and end ICE’s attacks against our community.”

Migrant Justice has focused in recent years on improving labor and housing conditions in the dairy industry through our flagship program, Milk with Dignity. Yet in the background, we have steadily expanded protections for immigrant rights in Vermont. Last year, we were instrumental in passing a law to expand Medicaid coverage to children and pregnant people regardless of immigration status, an expansion that will take effect on July 1st. And we have continued to advance policies that stop local police from collaborating with deportation agencies: earlier this month, Shelburne became the 9th jurisdiction in the state to adopt our “No Más Polimigra” policy.

These important victories would not be possible without your support. Make a donation to Migrant Justice today to fund the fight for immigrant rights in Vermont