MONTPELIER — After landing on a federal list of sanctuary jurisdictions, Montpelier has modified its policy on cooperating with the feds to enforce immigration law — but both the mayor and chief of police deny the change had anything to do with President Trump.
“[The media] implied, essentially, that I simply caved to federal pressure from the Trump Administration, from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. That is absolutely not the case,” Montpelier Police Chief Anthony Facos told True North Reports.
Mayor John Hollar has said the policy modifications were about coming into compliance with both state and federal law, but added that it was not due to threats from the federal government.
One of two clauses removed from the city’s policing policy had instructed officers not to contact U.S. Customs and Border Protection or U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement with information on “a suspect or arrestee’s race, ethnicity, national origin, or actual or suspected immigration status.”
The other required that officers should not spend resources responding to ICE or CBP inquiries with information beyond “what is available to the general public under open records laws.”
Facos said the federal listing surprisingly targeted Montpelier alone, even though other cities and towns in Vermont follow similar policies.
“Although the DHS [Department of Homeland Security] Boston Division did list Montpelier — the only Vermont jurisdiction listed as a ‘sanctuary jurisdiction’ — we were far from the only city and town in Vermont with policing policies that fit that definition,” Facos said in statement to True North.
He added that he has not received any contact from the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Justice regarding the policy designation.
Across the nation, states and municipalities are caught in a battle of wills over whether or not to help enforce the law.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday signed a bill making Texas the first state to essentially ban sanctuary cities. It establishes civil and criminal penalties of up to $25,000 a day for government and law enforcement personnel who don’t follow federal laws or comply with detention requests.
Facos said he’s following such developments across the country, but wouldn’t comment on how the trend might continue to play out across Vermont. “Basically, it’s a very different situation on the ground there,” he said.
Hollar echoed that Vermont and Texas are very different in their political leanings, even though Montpelier has changed course and agreed to help feds enforce the law.
“I feel we are so far removed from the politics of Texas that I’m not too concerned,” Hollar said. “We have a very different view [on immigration policy] than some in other states and some at the federal level.”
Sanctuary or not?
Facos said Vermont Gov. Phil Scott’s policies, including S.79, signed into law March 28, require compliance with federal law but at the same time allow police to not perform the duties of immigration agents.
“It says that Vermont law enforcement, and the state as a whole, will follow both the Constitution of the United States and the Vermont Constitution. In other words, we, being local law enforcement … have no special agreement with the government as far as working with agents of immigration.”
Despite the reversal on banning communication with feds about local residents’ immigration status, Facus said his officers still are encouraged not to ask about immigration status on routine interactions with the public, unless there is an enforcement-related reason to do so. Such decisions are left up to the discretion of individual officers.
He added that he cannot order officers to not communicate with federal partners on a variety of matters, including immigration.
Hollar said police and other officials “need to have that flexibility” when doing their job. However, he noted that some circumstances — such as human and sex trafficking — would require officials know the citizenship status of immigrants who are either engaged in crime or victims of crime.
“It’s relevant to protecting public health and safety,” he said.
Facos said when it comes to a health emergency or reporting a crime, immigrants should feel safe to contact his office regardless of status.
“That’s what’s so important to us. That’s why all these police departments from LA to New York to Montpelier to Burlington, we are all saying … ‘If you are a victim of a crime, we need to understand and we need to investigate that crime.’”
Hollar said he doesn’t expect any additional changes to the policy. He also said the city does not anticipate a loss in federal funding after making the change.
Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.