By Guy Page
The state of Vermont’s policy of partial non-cooperation with federal immigration police has already cost Vermont police the use of about $2.3 million in federal heroin-trafficking money. And that figure may climb to almost $2.8 million if the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) decides it wants Vermont to refund a 2016 grant.
Gov. Phil Scott in March, 2017 signed S.79, prohibiting state and local police from participating in some federal immigration police activities. The final sentence in a fact sheet issued by him and Attorney General T. J. Donovan claims that “Vermont’s response does not put federal dollars at risk because it does not establish Vermont as a ‘sanctuary jurisdiction.’”
Not so fast, DOJ officials said Nov. 15. A letter sent to Vermont and other jurisdictions said their ‘sanctuary policies’ may violate federal statute 8 U.S.C. 1373, requiring local/state/federal police information sharing on illegal immigration. As a result, Vermont might lose DOJ grant funding, the letter warned.
That’s exactly what has happened — at least for now. Adam Silverman, Public Information Officer at the Vermont Department of Public Safety, explained to Headliners Wednesday:
“These grants are the DOJ Byrne JAG grant and the DOJ COPS Anti-Heroin Task Force grant (which Sen. Leahy was instrumental in securing). Vermont received an award [of $1,326,496] from DOJ for the Federal Fiscal Year (“FFY”) 2017 COPS Anti-Heroin Task Force grant, however DOJ is currently withholding this grant while DOJ conducts a review of Vermont’s compliance with 8 U.S.C. § 1373. Vermont also has applied for the FFY 2017 [of $476,496] and FFY 2018 [of $482,496] Byrne JAG grants but is waiting for the DOJ’s award decision, which has similarly been delayed pending DOJ review of Vermont’s compliance with 8 U.S.C. § 1373.”
That’s $2,285,488 of federal anti-drug-trafficking money currently on hold due to what DOJ claims is non-compliance with immigration policing laws. Furthermore in April, 2018 DOJ said Vermont may need to return the 2016 Byrne grant of $507,892 according to a DOJ document. Those four grants alone account for $2,793,380 in federal funds not available to help police fight Vermont’s opioid/heroin/fentanyl epidemic. In the coming months, if the number of delayed/denied grant awards rises, so will the amount of money lost – at least temporarily – to Vermont police to fight drug trafficking. DOJ’s final decision whether or not to disburse the funds is, of course, unknown at this time.
Both Silverman and Rebecca Kelley, spokesperson for Gov. Scott, emphasize that Vermont is in compliance with federal immigration policing laws, particularly 8 U.S.C. 1373. “I want to be abundantly clear that the State of Vermont is not a sanctuary jurisdiction,” Kelley said today. “The State is in full compliance with Federal Law in all areas. The Department of Public Safety will continue to work with the Department of Justice to secure the funding due to the State on these critical law enforcement efforts.”
But DOJ is unconvinced about Vermont’s compliance — at least for now — and it holds the purse strings. It remains to be seen when, or if, Vermont will see any of this DOJ grant money, or whether it may need to reimburse 2016 “Byrne” grant money already spent. What is clear is how much Vermont police rely on this money to fight the illegal drug trade, as stated in a November 2017 letter by Dept. of Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Anderson and Vermont State Police Col. Matthew Birmingham:
“These grants are used to fund the Vermont Drug Task Force, which routinely conducts investigations of drug traffickers in Vermont, including heroin traffickers. The loss of these funds would have a significant and detrimental effect on the State of Vermont’s ability to investigate drug trafficking offenses. In addition to funding a local officer on the Task Force, these funds are used for day-to-day operational expenses of the state-wide Drug Task Force. Without a fully functioning Task Force, Vermont’s ability to effectively investigate, arrest and prosecute heroin and other drug traffickers will be significantly hampered and will pose an unacceptable risk to the safety of Vermont.”
Daniel Brown of Randolph, a candidate for the Addison/Orange/Washington County seat in the Vermont Legislature, reached out to Headliners after initiating the discussion with Silverman. Brown and fellow Republican Steve Webster will be challenging incumbents Jay Hooper and Ben Jickling in the November general election. More details about the state’s immigration policy can be read in this August Statehouse Headliners.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.