Task Force Appointed By Vermont AG To Assess Immigration Issues And State Powers

Jan 27, 2017

As President Donald Trump issues Executive Orders clamping down on immigration, some state attorneys general are pushing back.  Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan has created a Task Force on Immigration to advise him on his legal authority regarding federal immigration law.

President Trump has promised “extreme vetting” of immigrants and signed an Executive Order that would restrict funding to sanctuary cities.  He will also sign an executive action that temporarily suspends refugees from entering the country and bans immigrants from seven countries.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wants the president to revoke the sanctuary city order. In a statement he notes that Trump “….lacks the constitutional authority to cut off funding to states and cities simply because they have lawfully acted to protect immigrant families….”

In Vermont, Attorney General T.J. Donovan, who took office at the beginning of the month, has formed an 11-member Task Force on Immigration to advise him on what powers he has regarding federal immigration law to ensure residents’ constitutional rights.

Task Force co-chair Kesha Ram is a former state representative. She says the attorney general wants them to help him assure safety and certainty during an “alarming transition” at the federal level.   “There's still a lot of uncertainty and complexity just in trying to interpret what has been handed down. And there may be some lawsuits as well given that all of these countries are predominantly Muslim and there's a potential case to be made that there's some form of discrimination happening against certain countries without a concrete security threat. So you know we just need to take all of that into account and then figure out what it means for Vermonters, how we can keep Vermonters safe and allow them to exercise their civil rights. And the question is how much control do we have in this new federal context.”

Burlington civil rights Attorney Robert Appel retired in 2013 as head of the Vermont Human Rights Commission.  He says immigrant workers in Vermont are concerned about recent White House actions.   “Our dairy industry is highly dependent on Mexican and Guatemalan and other foreign nationals who are here without legal status because there is no legal status available to them. My guess is that’s going to become more and more difficult to sustain that labor force here in Vermont given the increased federal attention on this topic.”

Migrant Justice advocates for immigrant farmworkers in Vermont.  Enrique Balcazar’s family works on a dairy farm and he is a community organizer with Migrant Justice.  Speaking with interpreter Will Lambek, Balcazar says they have been discussing immigration issues with the new state attorney general since his election in November.   “It's really important for him to be able to hear the voice of the community in this moment particularly since the election and inauguration of the new president and for him to understand that immigrants and other people of color have fought hard to make Vermont a more livable state and that Vermont should stand up to maintain and defend its values in this crucial time.”

Ram says the Task Force has a sense of urgency as new mandates come out of Washington.  The daughter of immigrants, Ram says her key concern is to prevent a climate of fear.   “Immigrants want to give back and contribute to the economy and our society and so for me the biggest concern is that we not create a climate of fear. The other issue is the notion of a registry based on religion and particularly for Muslim Americans. And creating a registry based on religion is an incredible slippery slope. We have to guard against and be prepared for and really just pray that it doesn't come anywhere near fruition.”

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan is traveling this week and was unavailable for comment.