Windham County Sheriff can make our communities welcoming to immigrants

WINDHAM — In June, Florida's governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation that requires local law enforcement agencies overseeing county detention facilities to collaborate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enforce immigration laws.

This move, which came amid opposition from towns all over Florida, is a cautionary tale about what could happen elsewhere.

Here in Vermont, eight jurisdictions, including Brattleboro, have ensured a clear dividing line between their local law enforcement departments and immigration authorities.

They have done this by adopting five improvements to Vermont's model Fair and Impartial Policing Policy (FIPP) to protect immigrants from being detained or deported. Immigrant workers in Vermont have been picked up and detained while engaging in daily activities, and many remain at risk until the loopholes in local FIPPs are closed.

The policies being imposed in Florida originated under the Reagan Administration as a way to block immigrants fleeing U.S.-sponsored wars in Central America. Forced collaboration between federal immigration authorities and local law enforcement has been opposed by human rights advocates, immigrant communities, and police themselves around the country.

Today, Windham County welcomes asylum seekers from Afghanistan and around the world. A group of community members has been trying to make sure that the county will be a place where immigrants of all backgrounds can live without fear of being targeted because of their perceived immigration status.

We are pleased that Brattleboro has taken the lead in our county by adopting the reforms, joining Winooski, Hartford, Burlington, South Burlington, Norwich, Richmond, Shelburne, and Addison County. In March, voters in Marlboro, Dummerston, and Putney - towns that contract with the Windham County Sheriff's Office for their law enforcement - passed resolutions by landslide majorities calling on the sheriff to amend his department's Fair and Impartial Policing Policy to provide these protections. Sadly, the Sheriff has not adopted those amendments.

Vermont needs a statewide policy that would prevent the kind of collaboration being forced on Florida's law enforcement officials.

Though the state Legislature tasked Vermont's Criminal Justice Council with revising the statewide FIPP by the first of the year, the Council has yet to take action on these protections. But the Windham County Sheriff can make our communities welcoming to immigrants by amending his department's FIPP.

There are no barriers to making these changes: all other Vermont communities' improved FIPPs have been found by the state attorney general to be in compliance with state policy.

As southern Vermont welcomes refugees, asylum seekers, and other immigrant populations to be our neighbors, now is the time for the sheriff to do his part in ensuring that they will be welcome.

Visit www.caspvt.org/no-mas-polimigra to find out more, and join us in signing a petition urging Sheriff Mark Anderson to act now.

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