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Upper Valley Communities To Vote On Limiting Cooperation With U.S. Immigration Authorities

Road junction in Norwich, Vermont.
Angela Evancie
/
VPR
Norwich is one of four Upper Valley communities voting on measures that would limit local officials' ability to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Should local government officials be prohibited from sharing information about a person's immigration or citizenship status with federal immigration authorities? That’s what voters in four Upper Valley communities on both sides of the Vermont-New Hampshire border will answer at town meetings in the coming weeks and months.

Hartford, Norwich, Lebanon and Hanover are each slated to vote on measures that would stop local police or municipal government officials from sharing information about an individual's immigration status with federal immigration authorities. Norwich and Hartford hold their town meetings on March 3rd. Lebanon's is on March 10th, and Hanover holds its town meeting in May.

Valley News reporter Anna Merriman has been covering this issue, and spoke about it with VPR's Henry Epp. Their interview is below. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Henry Epp: So, four towns have these measures on the ballot right now. They're not exactly identical, as I understand it. But overall, what's the goal here?

Anna Merriman: The goal is really to stop sharing of information regarding citizens' or non-citizens' immigration status with federal authorities. Supporters say that that's going to make it easier and more comfortable for people who might be undocumented in these communities to sort of go about daily life without fear of deportation or reporting by local police. 

How did the effort come about to put these measures on local ballots?

It started, really, in Hartford in June of 2019. And it started with a proposed policing policy. In Hartford, that turned into this ordinance that we have today that's going in front of voters next month. And then that spurred several other ordinances in Lebanon and Norwich and Hanover as well.

How is this being received by these communities?

There is an ardent group of supporters. They say that it would help undocumented people, it would make people feel more comfortable, say, reporting a domestic violence issue to police without fear of having your immigration status reported to federal authorities.

But then there are people who are really concerned about the flip side of it. They say that it would violate a federal law, specifically U.S. Code 1373, which says that local [governments cannot restrict officials from communicating with federal immigration authorities.] What some people, especially in Hartford, are really concerned about, is the executive order that [President] Trump passed in 2017, which said that any local authorities that violate 1373 are subject to lose federal grant funding.

So last summer, 18 people without immigration documentation were arrested in the Upper Valley over a few days. Do you have a sense of how many people in the region are undocumented and potentially could be protected to some degree by these measures that are on the table in these four towns?

It's not entirely clear how many people in the area are undocumented. However, we do know that there are large groups of undocumented migrant workers in the Upper Valley.

How does the debate feel on the ground there in the Upper Valley? Is it getting contentious?

I would say that it is contentious, especially in some towns. It seems like everybody has an opinion about it. I wrote about this selectboard race in Hartford, and when I was talking to the candidates, pretty much everybody had a very strong opinion either for or against the Hartford ordinance. It all goes back to some people who really think we shouldn't put local employees in this position, and some people say, 'Well, we should support and be welcoming to undocumented people.’"

Clarification 2/27/20 12:50 p.m. This post has been updated to reflect the correct function of U.S. Code 1373, which is to prohibit local governments from restricting contact with federal immigration authorities.

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