By Angela Chagnon
Montpelier, August 18 – A handful of activists, comprised of migrant workers and representatives of the VT Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project, and even some from the Vermont Worker’s Center, held a demonstration against the Secure Communities program on the steps of the Capitol.
Natalia Fajardo of the VT Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project called for “a stop to the racism and fear” that the program will supposedly bring.
“It turns our local police into immigration officials,” she said. “It makes ‘driving while brown’ a crime.”
Secure Communities would require any fingerprints taken by local and state police to be sent to the FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to check the immigration status of the person fingerprinted. States have been allowed to opt-out of the requirement in the past even though it was intended to be mandatory, but earlier this month the Department of Homeland Security announced that the program requirements would be enforced in every jurisdiction by 2013.
The small group gathered at the Statehouse last Thursday had originally planned to speak to the Governor, but were unable to do so due to scheduling difficulties.
“I am here to ask for support from the Governor to do whatever he can to not participate in the (in)Secure Community Program,” said Over Lopez, a Spanish-speaking migrant worker who spoke through an interpreter. “I also want the people of Vermont, the Governor and Vermont Representatives to tell Obama to fulfill his unfulfilled promises to the Latino Community that helped elect him by stopping this unjust program that is tearing apart our communities.”
Another Spanish-speaking migrant worker, Danilo Lopez, said that President Obama had “sweet-talked the immigrant community with immigration reform” and accused him of “turning his back on the promises he made.”
The group’s press release stated that there are about 1,200 to 1,500 migrant workers at dairy farms around the state, most of whom are here illegally. The release further says that these workers “are subjected to aggressive racial profiling practices that convert workers into virtual prisoners on the farm” and that Vermont’s dairy farms would “likely not exist” were it not for these workers.
Secure Communities, the group says in a letter to Governor Shumlin, “threatens our security” by making “every undocumented person afraid to report a crime for fear of being arrested and deported” and “promotes racial discrimination”.
“The law requires local police to work more like Immigration agents, spreading fear among the migrant population,” stated Over Lopez. He went on to say that laws targeting illegal immigrants “affect the mentality of children, who learn intolerance and discrimination toward people who are not like them, with serious effects like racial conflicts.”
“The Commission has been concerned about issues revolving around racial profiling by police,” said Robert Appel, Executive Director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission. “This program is being shoved down the throat of state and local police departments, and in my view, only promotes further targeting of minority populations.”
However, ICE’s website says that the program “prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens” and enforces an already-existing partnership between ICE and the FBI:
Secure Communities imposes no new or additional requirements on state and local law enforcement, and the federal government, not the state or local law enforcement agency, determines what immigration enforcement action, if any, is appropriate.
When asked about his stance on the program, Governor Shumlin replied, “On a philosophical level, this is what I know. Vermont farmers rely upon migrant labor to deliver product to market, and we want to be a state that takes care of the people who work so hard on our farms.”
He continued, “There’s no question in my view that our immigration policies in this country are broken and the Federal government is, frankly–some of their policies are out of step with the way we treat our farm workers in Vermont.”
When Shumlin was asked if he would speak to President Obama about the Secure Communities program on behalf of the VT Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project, he said, “I haven’t seen exactly what they’re asking us to do, so I’m going to plead the Fifth.”