MONTPELIER, Vt. — A pending revision to the policy used to govern the way Vermont police agencies interact with the immigrant communities has advocates worried that immigrants will be less likely to seek out police in emergencies.
They are also worried it would make it easier for federal immigration agents to have access to people in state custody.
The Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the advocacy group Migrant Justice said Thursday they have been working for months with Vermont officials to revise the state’s Fair and Impartial Policing Policy. That policy outlines how state and local police agencies deal with immigrants. It is scheduled to be presented next week to the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council for ratification.
Will Lambek, of Migrant Justice, said that under the current policy, police would not give federal authorities access to immigrants in state custody.
One area of dispute comes down to whether the policy should read that police would not “give” or “offer” information to federal immigration agents.
Lambek said he and other advocates fear that some wording changes in the policy could have real impacts in Vermont when police agencies come into contact with immigrants.
“This policy is going to be used to provide guidance in the field (to police) about what their rights and responsibilities are regarding immigration law,” Lambek said.
A state police trooper who has been working on the issue said police share the goal of ensuring people who need services have access to them without regard to their immigration status, but in some cases, the two sides have different interpretations of the wording being used.
“I’m interested in a policy that promotes public safety and trust and is something my troopers can understand and operationalize and also happens to adhere to federal law,” said state police Major Ingrid Jonas, the commander of the state police support services division.
“One word means quite a bit of difference to each group,” Jonas said. “I respect where they are coming from, and at the same time there ends of needing to be a balance between these very important factors, public trust, access to police services, operational useful policy in the field and adherence to federal law.”
The Criminal Justice Training Council must complete its work on the revision before the end of the year. It is expected to deal with the issue during a meeting Dec. 12.