State Panel to Look at Options Under Trump Immigration Orders

Special thanks to VT Digger, for providing us with this article, published Jan. 25, 2017, by Elizabeth Hewitt.

task force launched by Attorney General TJ Donovan will focus on what options the state has in the face of changing immigration policies at the federal level.The state’s new top prosecutor announced the panel Wednesday, hours before President Donald Trump signed two much-anticipated and controversial immigration-related executive orders. One directed construction of a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. The other withholds federal money from so-called sanctuary cities, which are municipalities that decline to help federal authorities enforce immigration laws. Burlington and Montpelier are two examples in Vermont.Another order concerning immigration from Muslim countries is expected later this week.Ahead of the change in administration in Washington, Donovan heard from many Vermonters with questions about what Trump’s immigration policies may mean for them, he said. Donovan said those spurred him to create the panel.

“Immigration law is an area of federal jurisdiction. There are some different areas that the state can play a role,” Donovan said. “That’s the reason for this task force. We need to understand what role the state can play on that very point.”

Donovan said Wednesday morning that it was unclear how policies would shift under the Trump administration.

“The anxiety of the unknown is driving a lot of fear, and I think what we can do at a minimum is get concrete answers to Vermonters’ questions,” Donovan said.

Former Democratic state Rep. Kesha Ram and attorneys Faisal Gill and Jake Perkinson chair the 11-member task force.

“The issue is pretty much a federal issue, so the question comes down to what can the state do, what can the attorney general and others in the state do,” Gill said.

Ram said Vermonters are wary of policies that could hurt immigrants in the state.

“Vermonters expect us to build bridges of compassion and understanding and opportunity, not walls of hate and ignorance,” Ram said.

Other members include Karen Richards of the Vermont Human Rights Commission, Capt. Ingrid Jonas of the Vermont State Police and Jay Diaz of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont.

Leaders of the Republican minority in the House and Senate will also each nominate an attorney to sit on the committee.

Donovan said he has concerns about cities’ adopting the label of “sanctuary city,” noting that it does not demarcate a legal status but stands for a set of municipal policies with regard to immigration law.

“Saying ‘We’re a sanctuary city’ without doing any of the work in terms of the policy work is frankly misleading,” Donovan said. “And I think people need to be very careful about the language we use in terms of addressing these issues.”

Donovan also said law enforcement in the state will continue to work with the federal government on some aspects of immigration law. If federal immigration authorities request notification before someone facing state charges is released, then local and state law enforcement will comply, he said.

“We’ve got to be clear, we can’t over-promise, and we have to do our job as law enforcement here, at the same time working to protect all Vermonters,” Donovan said. “That’s the bottom line here.”

In December, the Montpelier City Council voted to make Vermont’s capital a sanctuary city.

The resolution authorized the city to adopt policies that would protect unauthorized immigrants from deportation. Local police would not be allowed to enforce federal immigration laws.

Trump’s sanctuary city order specifically declares that communities are “not eligible to receive federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the attorney general or the secretary” of homeland security.

It also directs the director of the Office of Management and Budget to compile
“relevant and responsive information on all federal grant money that currently is received by any sanctuary jurisdiction.”

Montpelier Mayor John Hollar said Trump’s order would prompt a re-evaluation of the city’s sanctuary city policy. “We receive a significant amount of federal money that is at risk,” he said.

In fiscal year 2016, Montpelier received more than $1.1 million in federal funds. After calculating current federal grant monies and incoming 2017 grants, Montpelier has nearly $9 million in federal money supporting various projects, including $6.2 million allocated for bike path infrastructure and $1.7 million for a transportation hub and public park development on Taylor Street.

“My goal is to take guidance from the attorney general’s task force while still recognizing our values to ensure this is a welcoming city and that we don’t endorse Trumpian policies,” Hollar said. “We clearly have a president who can be vindictive, and we need to make a decision understanding that reality.”

(VTDigger reporter Jasper Craven contributed to this story.)

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