Scott signs immigration bill into law as Trump administration cracks down

MONTPELIER — Republican Gov. Phil Scott, flanked by Democratic Attorney General T.J. Donovan and Democratic lawmakers, signed into law Tuesday a bill aimed at curbing the impacts of executive orders signed by President Donald Trump in January.

Vermont’s newest immigration enforcement directive sits enacted into law on the governor’s desk Tuesday after Gov. Phil Scott signed it before a congratulatory audience in his ceremonial office in the State House. The law limits Vermont police involvement with the federal government and gives the governor power to sign off on agreements that deputize Vermont police to do federal immigration duties. The law was a response to what Scott has termed federal overreach by the Trump administration. (Times Argus/Stefan Hard)

The signing comes just a day after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced at the daily White House briefing a crackdown by the Trump administration on jurisdictions that do not honor requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain people they may want to take custody of. Such jurisdictions have been commonly referred to as sanctuary cities or states, but there is no legal definition of a sanctuary jurisdiction.

The bill signed into law Tuesday, S.79, grants Scott as governor the sole authority to enter into agreements with the federal government to deputize local, county or state law enforcement personnel to enforce federal immigration law. Scott said the law is necessary because the president’s executive orders indicate “a shift in federal policy in the areas of immigration and border security.”

“The executive orders indicate the federal government will seek agreements and engage with the states to perform immigration enforcement functions that are the responsibility of the federal government. This sort of federal overreach, to commandeer state resources for a federal purpose, in my opinion and under the guidance of legal counsel, would violate the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” Scott said at a signing ceremony in his State House office. “By signing this law we ensure only the governor can enter agreements that would commit the state or local law enforcement to perform the immigration enforcement functions of the federal government.”

The law also prevents local, county and state law enforcement officers from sharing personally identifiable data, such as race, immigration status, gender and sexual orientation, with federal authorities if that information is being sought for the purposes of some kind of registry.

“I believe this law provides assurances to Vermonters that our state and local law enforcement officials will not be deputized for new and expanded federal law enforcement functions. As I’ve said many times, we can’t pick and choose what pieces of the Constitution we defend and that is why I’m proud to have worked together across all three political parties to introduce and pass this legislation,” Scott said.

The governor said he supports comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level “to protect our borders from threats to national security.” But Trump’s orders “did little to solve these serious challenges,” he said.

“Instead, they introduced a significant level of uncertainty for states, law enforcement, citizens and non-citizens alike,” Scott said.

The new law will not make Vermont a sanctuary state, the governor insisted.

“This law has been carefully crafted through a consensus-building process to confirm Vermont remains compliant with federal law, that we would not be establishing a sanctuary state and to address the needs and recommendations of our law enforcement partners,” Scott said.

On Monday, Sessions said the Trump administration would look to crack down on jurisdictions that do not honor ICE “detainer” requests. The federal agency has begun issuing a weekly report that tracks jurisdictions that it believes are not complying. The city of Montpelier appeared on the first weekly report as a city that does not fully comply with detainer requests because of its fair and impartial policing policy that requires a finding of probable cause before such requests are honored.

“Such policies cannot continue. They make our streets less save,” the attorney general said Monday, noting the administration would look to cut off some federal funding to jurisdictions that do not comply with detainer requests or federal law.

Scott acknowledged that Vermont’s newest law could draw the ire of the Trump administration, which could, in turn, label the state or more of its municipalities as sanctuary jurisdictions because of similar fair and impartial policing policies.

“I’m not sure that this doesn’t create some sort of a spotlight on Vermont, and maybe appropriately so, that we are doing things a bit differently here to protect our citizens and to protect the Constitution,” the governor said.

Democratic Attorney General T.J. Donovan speaks at a bill signing ceremony as Republican Gov. Phil Scott looks on. (Times Argus/Stefan Hard)

Donovan, who has issued a guidance to Vermont municipalities that advises them to only honor ICE detainer requests when there is finding of probable cause, said Trump’s orders are un-American and unconstitutional.”

Donovan defended Montpelier and his own guidance, saying the state and cities and towns could be held liable for unreasonable search and seizure if they hold someone for ICE without a finding of probable cause.

“When you look at Montpelier, you have them on a list that says they don’t comply,” he said. “I think what it says is that the city of Montpelier follows the 4th Amendment of the Constitution, which means this — we are not going to seize or detain somebody without probable cause. That is a constitutional right. That is what the 4th Amendment is about.”

“If it’s a civil detainer request, are you asking a Vermont city or town to detain somebody with lack of probable cause and subject that Vermont city or town to liability? Listen, this issue needs to be debated,” Donovan added. “It should be debated and it should be debated in a responsible, respectful manner. I know that Gov. Scott and I joined the federal [congressional] delegation in reaching out to the federal authorities requesting a meeting to talk about these issues. We want bright lines. We want to understand what they’re asking us, but we don’t want to do it in a way that would disrespect our violate Vermonters’ constitutional rights or put Vermont cities and towns at risk of liability.”

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