Friday, October 21, 2011

Farm workers, Vermont governor discuss immigration issues (Burlington Free Press)

Farm workers, Vermont governor discuss immigration issues
3:24 PM, Oct. 17, 2011
Written by Mike Donoghue

A small group of farm workers and supporters say they were pleased with their meeting last week with Gov. Peter Shumlin and his legal counsel to discuss immigration issues in Vermont and ways to modify policing policies when it comes to migrant workers.

"We feel that it was a good dialogue. They did not make any specific promises, but we look forward to keeping the conversation open," said Natalia Fajardo of the Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project.

Five farm workers and five other supporters, including translators, met with legal counsel Beth Robinson for more than an hour, Fajardo and Robinson estimated. They said Shumlin was able to stay for about 20 minutes.

"It was helpful to hear everybody's perspective," Robinson said. She said the conversation centered on "how they would like to see how the state moves in general with some goals."

The meeting came on the heels of a Sept. 13 traffic stop by Vermont State Police that netted two Mexicans whom the U.S. Border Patrol said were in the United States illegally. The State Police Advisory Commission ruled Wednesday that Senior Trooper Jared Hatch had followed the department's Bias Free Policing Policy after stopping a Vermonter driving 88 mph in a 65 mph zone on Interstate 89 in Middlesex.

Excessive nervousness, inconsistent answers and a failure on the part of the two passengers to make eye contact with Hatch led the trooper to ask additional questions, the advisory commission said. The trooper's questions were not motivated by the passengers' actual or perceived race, color or national origin, according to the commission , which consists of seven state residents appointed by the governor.

The panel noted that Hatch, when stopping the compact pickup, was unable see the driver, who was from Vermont, or the two passengers, who were from Mexico.

Danilo Lopez and his cousin Antonio Meza-Sandoval were later detained.

Lopez, who is active with the Solidarity Project, "contacted them and this set off a chain of calls and rapid response eventually leading to the farmworkers release from Border Patrol later that evening," the Solidarity Project's news release said.

The director of the Vermont State Police said Friday that the issue of bias-free policing is an important topic. Col. Tom L'Esperance said he spoke with Brendan O'Neill from the Solidarity Project and is hoping to schedule a meeting with him this week.

"The dialogue regarding immigration needs to continue, so that the Vermont State Police can ensure the fair and humane treatment of all people living and working in Vermont while providing professional, accountable, and compassionate law enforcement services," L'Esperance said in a written statement to the Burlington Free Press.

Part of the meeting with Shumlin included viewing a five-minute video designed to show the Middlesex case wasn't an isolated incident, Fajardo said. She said the incidents outlined in the video happened in Vermont, including one at Burlington International Airport. The video also includes one person talking about not wanting to report a theft because of immigration status.

The Solidarity Project said the five farm workers at the meeting represent at least 1,500 workers who help sustain the dairy industry and landscapes. The topics Friday came from a "long series of meetings and surveys by the farmworker community," Fajardo said.

Lopez, one of the two undocumented immigrants detained Sept. 13, had chatted in passing with Shumlin about immigration issues about three weeks before the stop.

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