The federal government has introduced its Secure Communities immigration enforcement policy in Vermont, despite the state’s so-called bias-free policing policy.
Vermont officials say they won’t make any changes to their policy despite the shift at the federal level. Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn says there’s nothing in the new federal immigration policy that will affect how Vermont State Police work in this state.
"Our general policy is still going to be that detecting and apprehending individuals whose only violation of law is that they’re foreign citizens present in the United States without authorization or proper documentation is not a law enforcement priority for the Vermont State Police," Flynn said.
But state police will still work with the FBI and that could make Vermont’s bias-free policy more difficult to uphold.
Under Secure Communities, the FBI shares fingerprints with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE which can then compare those fingerprints against lists of illegal immigrants who have criminal records.
Vermont becomes part of the system because state and local police submit fingerprints to the FBI to compare them against national databases.
But Commissioner Flynn says Vermont’s policy shouldn’t be jeopardized.
"The trigger for this is that a person would have committed a violation of Vermont law while in Vermont," Flynn said. "That would be the trigger that would cause us to take the fingerprint from that person and forward it on to the FBI."
Immigration rights groups say it’s not that simple. They worry that the policy could be used to deport people for minor offenses.
Brendan O’Neill of the group Migrant Justice says Secure Communities could also lead to racial profiling.
"ICE has a terrible history with this program across the country and according to its own Department of Homeland Security review, over 50 percent of people who’ve been deported through this program are not at all the dangerous criminals that the Obama administration has suggested that they are," O’Neill said.
State officials say they appreciate the concerns of advocates, but they say they need to continue working with the FBI, and they can’t control the relationship with ICE.