MONTPELIER — Opponents of the Trump administration’s immigration policy staged two vigils in the Capital City on Friday.
The actions were part of simultaneous Lights for Liberty Vigils nationwide to protest the inhumane treatment of immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
In Vermont, simultaneous vigils were scheduled to be held in Bennington, Brattleboro, Essex Junction, Middlebury, Putney, Richmond, Rutland, St. Johnsbury and Stowe. Two vigils in Montpelier were held at noon in the downtown and in the evening at the State House.
Lights for Liberty is a coalition of people dedicated to human rights and the fundamental principle behind democracy that all human beings have a right to life, liberty and dignity, said organizers.
In Montpelier and Vermont, vigils were coordinated with Migrant Justice of Vermont which is also fighting for the freedom of three Mexican migrant dairy farm workers recently detained in Newport by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The vigils were also to protest the threatened action by the Trump administration of mass arrests of migrants in about a dozen major cities who have failed to appear for court hearings and deport them.
In Montpelier, immigrant rights’ activists plan to lobby the City Council at its Aug. 28 meeting to strengthen its Sanctuary City status by closing loopholes in the Montpelier Police Department’s Fair and Impartial Police Policy.
Friday’s vigil at noon in Montpelier was attended by about 100 supporters who carried signs decrying Trump administration immigration policies and the treatment of immigrants in detention camps near the southern border. As supporters circulated the intersection of State and Main streets, they sang a song about immigrants not having to walk alone and being united with their children while motorists honked horns in support.
Signs carried by supporters read, “Free the Hostages,” “No Kids in Cages” and “Asylum is Not Illegal.”
“Whatever anybody thinks about immigration — how we should do it or not do it, and how many or who — we should by no means be putting anyone in a concentration camp,” said Kathleen Moore, of Marshfield, one of the organizers. “We should not be separating children from their families and we should be treating everybody with dignity and respect, no matter what. That’s why I’m here.”
After circling in the downtown, supporters then marched down to the State House lawn to regroup and pledge to continue their actions in the future.
“No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here,” they chanted a few times before being addressed by immigrant right activist Amanda Garces.
Garces read a statement from Migrant Justice of Vermont that explained the organization is a farm worker-led, grassroots organization that is building “the voice, power and capacity of immigrant farm workers in Vermont” and asking community partners to organize for economic justice and human rights.
“We see a real rise in mass outrage over immigration at the moment,” Garces said, noting that “mass detention, deportation and family separation are not new and are also not issues confined to the southern border.
“As outrage grows over the detention of children, deaths at the border and the threat of massive raids, ICE and Border Patrol continue their increasing attacks against immigrant communities around the country. These are the times to stand up and recognize that we are all in this together,” she added.
Garces also referenced the three immigrant dairy farm workers — Ismael Mendez, Mario Diaz and Ubertoni Aguilar — who all live and work on a dairy farm in northern Vermont who were detained by Border Patrol after shopping at Walmart and sending money to their families in Mexico, on June 23.
ICE is attempting to deport the three farm workers to Mexico, separating them from family members and their community in Vermont, according to Migrant Justice which has appealed for support in seeking their release.
Fellow activist Aly Johnson-Kurts asked people to join with Migrant Justice in an appeal to Montpelier City Council at its Aug. 28 meeting to tighten the city’s Fair and Impartial Police Policy.
“In (Montpelier’s) Fair and Impartial Police Policy, there are still some loopholes that exist,” Johnson-Kurts said. “The issue is discretion, and so we want to make it very clear for the police when the community expects them to take action, and when they are not, so there’s ambiguity, and they should have clear expectations of the community.”
The city’s Fair and Impartial Police was recently revised during a reaffirmation of the city’s designation as a “sanctuary city” in May.
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.”
Facos confirmed that the change in the policy was to “comport” with state law and narrows its scope of asking about immigration status to criminal investigations only.