Scott-backed legislation would block local officials from enforcing U.S. immigration law

Editor’s note: This article by Emma Lamberton originally appeared Feb. 9, 2017, at

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Standing with top lawmakers and Vermont’s attorney general, Gov. Phil Scott on Thursday introduced legislation prohibiting local officials from enforcing U.S. immigration law or even identifying illegals for federal immigration enforcement purposes.

Citing federal overreach, Scott announced two bills, S.79 and H. 228, designed to oppose President Donald Trump’s Jan. 25 executive orders requesting that state and local officials work with Homeland Security to identify and apprehend illegal immigrants.

“Vermont will not be complacent, nor will Vermont be complicit in what is federal overreach,” state Attorney General TJ Donovan said at the news conference.

According to the draft language, the bills aim to protect “Vermont residents from compulsory collection of personally identifying information, or dissemination of that information for purposes of establishing a mandatory federal registry or database.”

Personally identifying information the state won’t share with feds includes immigration status, national origin, race, color and religious affiliation — information needed to spot illegals living in Vermont.

A press release from the governor’s office says the legislation aims to make law enforcement available to residents without fear of having information passed along to feds. That appears to include illegal immigrants, who may need help from police but wouldn’t “feel free to engage with law enforcement” without having their personally identifying information collected.

“The bill was written to ensure … the legitimate State interest in promoting a State and communities where residents feel free to engage with law enforcement and other government authorities without being singled out based on protected characteristics,” the press release states.

Scott was careful to say that his policies do not aim to make Vermont a sanctuary state — a term hotly debated among immigration experts.

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

Earlier this month, President Trump signed an executive order directing state and local law enforcement to partner with federal agents in the apprehension and detention of illegal immigrants. He also threatened to pull federal funding from states and municipalities that do not comply — so-called sanctuary states.

Scott’s comment that the legislation carefully avoids using the term “sanctuary state” may signal a recognition that Vermont is at risk of losing federal funding due to the legislation.

The bills also state that only the governor may permit local law enforcement to partner with the federal government. This counters the language of Trump’s executive order, which said elected officials’ permission was only needed “as necessary.”

Any current partnership in which Vermont shares identifying information of illegal immigrants will be halted under the terms of the legislation. If passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, the legislation would go into effect July 1, 2017.

Standing with the governor at the news conference were Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, state Sen. Dick Sears, and members of the Governor’s Civil Rights and Criminal Justice Cabinet.

Emma Lamberton was Vermont Watchdog’s health care and Rutland area reporter.

CORRECTION: This article was updated at 5:07 p.m. Feb. 24 to correctly state that the paragraph characterizing the aim of the legislation references a governor’s office press release, not a quote from Gov. Phil Scott.

Image courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Public domain