Law Enforcement, Undocumented Workers

Migrant Supporter Decry Vt. Traffic Stop

From WPTZ.com, Stewart Ledbetter NewsChannel 5, WPTZ SLedbetter@hearst.com, 14 Sept 2011.

Two Mexicans Face Deportation Hearing

MIDDLESEX, Vt. — Gov. Peter Shumlin ordered an immediate investigation into the circumstances surrounding a traffic stop along I-89 Tuesday, in which a state trooper detained two undocumented farm workers who were passengers in a car.

The driver – a U.S. citizen – was clocked at 88 MPH in a 65 MPH zone and issued a citation for speeding.

But an account of the incident released by the State Police Tuesday night said that “during the course of the stop it was learned that (two) passengers were allegedly residing illegally in the United States. Troopers contacted the U.S. Border Patrol, and Border Patrol agents issued an immigration detainer requesting VSP detain” both men.

When Border Patrol agents arrived Tuesday afternoon to transfer the Mexicans to federal custody, a half-dozen Vermonters were waiting and tried to block the Border Patrol SUV from leaving the police parking lot.

After a brief scuffle, state troopers arrested three protestors, including Brendan O’Neill, a co-founder of the Vermont Migrant Farm Worker Solidarity Project.

The trio was charged with disorderly conduct and cited to appear in court in Barre November 3.

O’Neill insisted state police had no reason to question the immigration status of two passengers in a car stopped for speeding. He said the case revealed racial bias.

“This was an incident of racial profiling,” O’Neill said. “We have every reason to believe that if Danilo and Antonio were ‘Brian’ and ‘Bill’, with blond hair and blue eyes, the officer would not have asked them for their documentation.”

O’Neill made the point to a VSP lieutenant later inside the barracks, an exchange captured on video. A trooper is heard explaining to O’Neill, “we’re not in the business of routinely asking people their immigration status, but we are in the business of routinely asking people for identification. It’s a normal course of business to engage passengers to find out if there is other illegal activity taking place in the car.”

The larger conflict, however, stems from a proliferation of migrants now working on Vermont’s dairy farms.  By some accounts, 50 percent of the state’s iconic farms now rely on undocumented workers to milk dairy cows each day, jobs that otherwise go unfilled in the local labor market.

One of the migrants arrested by the Border Patrol Tuesday, Danilo Lopez, said he has worked on Vermont farms for three years, sending money back home to his family in Mexico. He now faces a deportation hearing, as yet unscheduled, likely in Boston.

 “He’s committed no crime,” insists Natalia Fajardo of Burlington who is also affiliated with the Solidarity Project. “He’s a human being who is working hard and who is part of this community and I believe we have a case to keep him here.”

Col. Thomas L’Esperance, director of the Vermont State Police, said his agency “takes seriously the necessity of ensuring fair and humane treatment of all people living and working in Vermont, regardless of their race, ethnicity, immigration status, or other personal criteria.”

Shumlin said he had instructed his chief legal counsel to review VSP policies relating to undocumented workers in the state, “with an eye toward ensuring bias-free policing conduct…  in all settings.”

Given the governor’s order, a VSP spokeswoman said L’Esperance declined an interview with NewsChannel Five to comment further on the case.

O’Neill said he was pleased the governor was taking some action. “We weren’t going to let it go unnoticed,” O’Neill said, despite his own arrest. “We weren’t  going to let this happen without some resistance.”

Source: WPTZ.com, “Migrant Supporter Decry Vt. Traffic Stop” by Stewart Ledbetter NewsChannel 5, WPTZ SLedbetter@hearst.com, 14 Sept 2011.

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