MONTPELIER — The Vermont Senate advanced a bill on a unanimous vote Thursday that aims to keep state, county and local law enforcement agencies from helping federal authorities enforce immigration laws.
All 30 senators — including seven Republicans — voted in favor of the legislation, sending it to a final vote Friday. The bill was crafted by Republican Gov. Phil Scott, Democratic Attorney General T.J. Donovan and lawmakers in response to a series of executive orders signed by President Donald Trump regarding immigration enforcement and border security.
The bill grants the governor sole authority to approve agreements that would, in effect, deputize state, county or local police officers to enforce federal immigration law. One of the president’s executive orders calls for such agreements to help federal authorities. The Vermont bill also prevents those same law enforcement agencies in the state from collecting personally identifiable information or relaying that information to federal authorities, including race, sex, immigration status, religion or sexual orientation. The purpose is to prevent people in Vermont from being included in any registries the Trump administration may seek to create.
“What it does is small, but it is a big bill and does mean something,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, D-Bennington, told his colleagues Thursday.
Sears noted that the U.S. has had a “less than stellar” past at times, pointing to the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited people from China from emigrating to the U.S.
Sen. Dustin Degree said he was concerned the bill could derail cooperation between local law enforcement and the U.S. Border Patrol regarding non-immigration issues.
“Many of us recognize and understand the important situations of cooperation and mutual aid that the border patrol plays with our local law enforcement,” he said. “Does this bill change any of those particular relationships?”
Sears said there are currently no agreements in place between local law enforcement and federal authorities for immigration enforcement. The bill would not prevent federal authorities from assisting local law enforcement in other police actions.
Passage of the bill comes as Scott prepares to head to Washington, D.C., this weekend for a meeting of the National Governors Association. There, he is scheduled to take part in a dinner at the White House with the president on Sunday night, and another meeting with Trump on Monday.
At his weekly news conference Wednesday, Scott reiterated his support for the legislation.
“I think that bill is important to Vermont. I think it does set the tone and I believe it does offer us protections,” he said. “We’re doing what’s important, I think, alleviating the fears of many throughout Vermont. It is important to let them know, those here within our borders, that we’re going to protect them and that we’re going to do it the Vermont way.”
Scott said he is unsure if he’ll have a chance to speak directly to Trump during his visits to the White House, but said he understands what most Vermonters would want him to say.
“I’m sure they’d like to let him know that we don’t agree with the executive order. We have to be sensitive, as well. That’s my opinion. The majority of Vermonters feel that way, but there’s a strong contingent that don’t feel that way. They’re solidly behind the president and his immigration policy. I just don’t happen to be one of them,” the governor said.
Scott said he plans to continue making the case to those who oppose the legislation that it is in the state’s best interest.
“I continue to try and remind them that this is about protecting our Constitution. This isn’t about just one issue,” he said. “This is about what I see as federal overreach in terms of our Constitution, and we can’t pick and choose which part of the Constitution we protect. We need to protect all of it. The next time when somebody is maybe talking about taking away some Second Amendment rights, I will be there to protect them as well.”