Vermont’s sanctuary status appalls Republicans

The following column was published on February 25, 2017.

Though Vermont has had a Republican governor for only a few weeks, many on the right are calling for Phil Scott’s ouster in 2018 with cries of “one and done,” “wasted vote,” and “Lisman regret.”

This widespread outrage has been provoked by the Governor’s participation in the Democrat-led opposition of President Trump’s executive orders concerning national security. The Scott Administration insists that its proposed legislation, Senate Bill 79, will not establish sanctuary status in Vermont. This is a falsehood.

The sponsors of S.79 claim that the bill prevents state officials from sharing information about individual traits (race, color etc.) of Vermont residents with the federal government to disallow the latter from creating a national registry. Never mind here that the White House has expressed no intention to do so.

It is more important to note that the senate bill adds “immigration status” to the list of categories protected against discrimination (e.g. age, disability), even though it is not a personal characteristic. Rather, it is a legal concept defined according to our nation’s immigration laws, which is why natural-born citizens have no immigration status.

In written testimony provided to the senate, Gary Shattuck (former assistant United States attorney) indicated that immigration falls under the purview of the federal government and not state law.

S.79 will restrict how immigration laws are enforced in Vermont by preventing federal authorities from distinguishing Vermont residents on the basis of legal status. Therefore, the senate bill will establish “an extra-legal status of sanctuary state.” Shattuck also added that the legislation’s “conflicting references” jeopardize the safety of law enforcement officers and the public.

In addition to S.79, State Attorney General TJ Donovan convened an immigration task force (dominated by Democrats) to prepare policy guidelines for immigration law enforcement by Vermont agencies. The committee studied and considered adapting New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s legal guidance on establishing sanctuary jurisdiction.

The document is titled, “Guidance Concerning Local Authority Participation In Immigration Enforcement And Model Sanctuary Provisions.” Like S.79, the task force’s proposal asserts that Vermont can (and should) violate two federal statutes – 8 U.S. Code § 1373 and 8 U.S. Code § 1644 – that require communication between government agencies and the Immigration and Naturalization Service “regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.” It also notes that pro-sanctuary policies may be adopted “regardless of whether a municipality chooses to call itself a sanctuary city or town.”

House Republican legislator Gary Viens of Newport served in law enforcement for over three decades, retiring in 2010 with the U.S. Border Patrol as a Deputy Chief Border Patrol Agent. As a strong Scott supporter, he spent weeks campaigning for Phil Scott last summer. The governor’s team did not consult with Viens, despite his extensive expertise in immigration and border control, and also dismissed his concerns regarding the administration’s policy direction.

Viens studied S.79 and discussed it in detail with current DHS deportation officials in Washington, D.C. Viens stated, “If the bill passes as introduced, Vermont may well inadvertently become a sanctuary state for all intents and purposes. I couldn’t have imagined that Gov. Scott would move forward with legislation like this once elected. I feel betrayed.”

Indeed, Republicans across the state share Viens’ sentiment. Sadly, the governor’s staff and Republican state senators who support S.79 have tried to silence these legitimate frustrations with condescension and contempt for “ignorant hard-liners.” Similarly, the local media deliberately refers to Republicans in Montpelier who submit to the majority’s anti-law agenda as “moderate.” The administration’s hostile attitude on this issue has prompted several, including this author, to view it as an extension of the majority party.

A recent Harvard–Harris Poll shows that 80 percent of voters want local authorities to cooperate with the federal government in enforcing immigration laws, and 52 percent support revoking federal funds for sanctuary cities (The Hill; Feb. 21). Therefore, the angered reactions of Vermont Republicans align with mainstream American opinions on immigration, border patrol, and national security. In contrast, Vermont’s political and media elites occupy extreme-left positions.

Nonetheless, S.79 is expected to pass into law next week. Viens explained, “They want to try and draw attention from the Trump team and the repercussions this could bring, which is why they won’t use that label. But you can’t seriously look at the policies and tell anyone otherwise.”

Interestingly, the Governor feels confident that “conservatives will come back around.” (Seven Days: Vermont’s Right Thinks Scott is Wrong on Trump; Feb. 22). He evidently underestimates the importance of national security and law abidance to the right. There’s an old saying in the South that holds true in life and in politics: “You’ve got to dance with the one that brung ya.” It may be wisdom lost on the Scott Administration, but not on Republican voters.
Meg Hansen is a syndicated columnist from Windsor, Vermont. The Vermont House Republican Caucus consults with her communications firm. All views expressed are those of the author alone.

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