MONTPELIER — The City Council reaffirmed the Capital City’s designation as a “sanctuary city” on Wednesday.
The council unanimously approved a resolution reaffirming a policy it crafted in 2016 that states “federal government and federal agencies have no legal authority to require local enforcement of immigration policy.”
Montpelier Police Chief Tony Facos said the language in the sanctuary city policy was altered to reflect a change in law at the state level.
In March 2017, Gov. Phil Scott signed into law Act 79, which prohibits state and local police from participating in some federal immigration enforcement efforts to arrest and detain undocumented immigrants. State and city leaders have said the change in policy meant they would still be in compliance with federal law without risking the loss of federal funding. But Scott stopped short of declaring Vermont a “sanctuary state.”
Official sanctuary cities in Vermont include Montpelier, Burlington and Winooski, while many smaller towns around the state have adopted “sanctuary status” resolutions. Montpelier reaffirmed its policy following recent threats by President Donald Trump to put illegal immigrants crossing country’s southern border in sanctuary cities.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Councilor Ashley Hill said she welcomed the reaffirmation.
“A few people have reached out to me after the nightmare going on at the federal level,” Hill said. “... So, it seems it would be the right time to reaffirm our commitment to being a city where everyone belongs and everyone is welcome to be, and also to just promote the language to reflect changes to state law.”
Facos confirmed that the change in the policy was to “comport” with state law.
“The change really has to do with, if we were to ask, it narrows the scope to criminal investigations only,” Facos said. “We have no jurisdiction or authority to participate in or be part of a civil enforcement action regarding immigration.”
Speaking after the meeting, Facos said the policy is designed to allow undocumented immigrants to seek police assistance when necessary without having to worry about being asked about their immigration status.
“We want to make sure that if anybody is a victim of crime, if they need our services, we want them to be able to come to us without fear,” Facos said. “Unless it’s a criminal warrant, for example, and those do occur, that’s a criminal arrest warrant like any other one that has judicial approval.
“We certainly have people that pass through here that may not be here with legal status. Civil immigration issues, that’s a matter for the federal government, not the police department,” Facos added.
Facos also noted that the language in the city’s resolution reflected the Montpelier Police Department’s fair and impartial policing policies that prohibit any bias concerning a person’s perceived identity, race, ethnicity or national origin.
“In exercising their discretion to use federal resources to establish an individual’s identity, officers should remain mindful that (1) their enforcement duties do not include civil immigration enforcement and (2) that the Montpelier Police Department stands by its mission to serve all Vermonters, including immigrant communities, and to ensure trust and cooperation of all victims/witnesses,” the MPD policy states.
“(Police) Members will not inquire of a person about that person’s immigration status unless it is necessary to the ongoing investigation of a criminal offense. Agency members shall not use individual personal characteristics to ask about or investigate immigration status,” the policy adds.
Pam Walker, of Montpelier, who represents the Central Vermont Refugee Action Network, welcomed the council’s affirmation of its sanctuary city status.
“We’re just so thrilled with this resolution and think it’s very, very important,” Walker said. “Our mission is to support and advocate for immigrants, migrants, refugees, and we have a lot of different projects and programs that we are involved in to make all that happen.
“We really trust that the city police will be respectful of immigrants and migrants in the city and not cooperate with ICE,” she added.