Vermont Police Relieve Tensions with Immigrants

Too often, when local law enforecment begins attempting to enforce federal immigration law, there is a "chilling effect" in the local immigrant community. What this means is that local immigrants are much less likely to report crimes, even when they are victims, because they fear local law enforcement. They stop seeing local officials as protectors of public safety and begin to see them as something to fear. This is one of the problems with the so-called 287(g) program, which trains local police to enforce federal immigration law. Immigrants are pushed into the shadows, fearing local officials. Even when immigrants are victims of violent crimes, they are hesitant to go to police.

That is why I was so excited to hear the decision of Vermont Police to not investigate the immigration status of three migrant farm workers who were assaulted and robbed earlier this month.

"This was the first time we had confronted a situation like this," said Col. James Baker, director of the Vermont State Police. "We decided that, as far as pursuing the investigation of this case, we would not actively pursue the immigration issue."

The issue arose when the owner of a North Hero farm told police that on the night of Sept. 5, one of his workers was accosted by armed assailants looking for cash and who then robbed several other workers at the employee's residence. Police said two South Hero farms were hit in the same manner that night and one the following night in Alburgh.

"We do not want to discourage anyone who is a victim of a crime from reporting that crime," Baker said. "To do otherwise is to put these people in a higher position to be victimized."

Very well put. I hope that others can see the importance of this small step by Vermont Police. If we are truly trying to improve and protect our communities, we must make sure to protect all involved - and sometimes this means protect the most vulnerable.