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August 18, 2011

Migrant Farmworkers to Shumlin: Denounce Immigration Enforcement Program

DSC00150 Two migrant farm workers took a day off Thursday to deliver a petition to Gov. Peter Shumlin asking him to oppose a controversial federal immigration enforcement program. But the governor was tied up in meetings, so Danilo Lopez and Over Lopez (pictured) pleaded their case with the Agency of Agriculture's second-in-command instead.

For the last month, the Lopezes (who are not related) have been organizing migrant workers on Vermont dairy, vegetable and horse farms in opposition to Secure Communities, or S-Comm, an Obama administration program that shares fingerprints collected by local police agencies with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The program's goal is to catch and deport criminal aliens, but it has come under fire for sweeping up large numbers of undocumented immigrants who have no criminal record.

Asked about S-Comm at his weekly press conference, Shumlin said that on a "philosophical level" he believes Vermont should treat migrant workers with "respect and dignity." But he stopped well short of committing to taking a stand against the program.

"I haven't seen exactly what they're asking us to do," the governor said, "so I'm gonna plead the Fifth."

DSC00117 Armed with a petition signed by 70 migrant workers, the Lopezes (Danilo is pictured at right) and other members of the Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project arrived in Montpelier unannounced at 8:45 a.m. hoping to catch the governor. Instead, they were greeted by a gubernatorial intern, Catherine Craig, who informed the group that the governor was in meetings all morning. She escorted them across the street to the Agency of Agriculture for an impromptu meeting with Deputy Secretary Diane Bothfeld.

The immigrants' petition asks Shumlin to publicly "say no" to Secure Communities because it "threatens our security," "promotes racial discrimination" and lacks transparency. Until recently, it was unclear whether the program was voluntary or mandatory, and governors in three states — Massachusetts, New York and Illinois — declared they would not participate. ICE has since clarified that S-Comm is mandatory and that every state must be on board by 2013. The Shumlin administration has said no one from ICE has approached Vermont officials yet about participating.

Bothfeld appeared unfamiliar with the immigration enforcement program, asking the farm workers whether it was "Vermont or federal?" Through a translator, Over Lopez, a 21-year-old Mexican who works six days a week growing greenhouse vegetables, clarified that it was federal and told Bothfeld: "We are part of the workforce in the dairy industry. If we were to be removed or deported, your state would be in an economic crisis. Everything would collapse."

Danilo Lopez, a 22-year-old Mexican employed on a horse farm in Charlotte, added: "We come to this country for necessity — to try to feed our families, and if they get sick, to have something to send them to a hospital with. If we were to flip roles and you or Mr. Shumlin were in my situation, you would seek support to defend your rights."

DSC00156 Bothfeld (pictured with Danilo Lopez) listened and promised to pass on the request to Shumlin, as well as supply the farm workers with figures about the exact number of migrant workers employed on Vermont farms. The Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project estimates that 1200 to 1500 migrant workers help sustain Vermont's struggling dairy farms. Most of these workers are not documented.

The workers also released an open letter today to Vermont farmers asking for their support in opposing S-Comm. It reads, "Such programs also affect you as an employer because when we run the risk of arrest, it leaves you without workers and damages your farms and threatens your income. In order to recruit new people, you must again teach them the operations of the farm, only to run the risk of repeating history over again."

The delivery of the petition to Shumlin was timed to loosely coincide with a wave of national protests against S-Comm and the release of a critical new report about the initiative.

 Later, at his weekly press conference, Shumlin was asked about the petition and whether he thinks Vermont law enforcement should be acting as immigration agents. The governor wouldn't directly answer the question but said: "On a philosophical level this is what I know. Vermont farmers rely on migrant labor to deliver product to market. And we want to be a state that takes good care of the people that work so hard on our farms."

DSC00185 Shumlin added that he wants Vermont banks to figure out a way for migrant workers to transfer money back home without incurring high-fee services as Western Union does. "We want to make sure that Vermont is a state where, when we host migrant workers, we treat them with respect and dignity. We have a raging immigration debate going on in America. There's no question, in my view, that our immigration policies in this country are broken, and that the federal government is ... frankly, some of their policies are out of step with how we treat our farm workers in Vermont."

"but it has come under fire for sweeping up large numbers of undocumented immigrants who have no criminal record."

No criminal record? How about being in the US ILLEGALLY? Being in the US illegally is a criminal offense. OMG -- heaven forbid that we should do anything to an ILLEGAL alien!

Legal immigration is fine, as are visas, farm worker programs, student visa programs. But NOT illegal immigration. If SComm sweeps up illegal immigrants, then no one has anything to complain about.

I understand the migrant workers concerns, but their petition means nothing legally as they are not citizens, and petitions must be signed by citizens. Sorry but the petition is a mute point. Vermont is an at will state and this petition is a waste of time.
Were the state to act on it would open a can of legal worms that will not squirm to far as the law is clear in this matter.
The petition has to be dead on arrival as it was started by non citizens and seems to be signed by non citizens.

Only those who do not like to eat at home or in fancy eateries, do not like to stay in clean hotels, and/or do not like to have a great deal of labor intensive work completed would in any way complain about "undocumented" workers. Even here in Vermont, beyond farm workers, there are 100s (probably 1000s) "non-citizen" workers, mostly undocumented or exploited in some way, working in the service sectors, construction and more. We need to find a way to do at least two things:
1. Encourage our Vermont work force and employers to figure out how to better work together to lower our chronic unemployment rolls. Putting more people to work will lessen the need for outside workers.
2. Take reasonable steps to legalize foreign workers and help them become Vermont citizens. Vermont needs new young families. This move will help with that need.

First, saying that because I want to stay in a clean hotel I should not complain about illegal aliens is just a silly, silly argument.

Second, illegal is still illegal. You don't pick and choose which laws to enforce based on being a bleeding heart liberal. If we didn't tolerate illegality we'd have US citizens cleaning our hotels rooms, not illegal aliens.

I don't believe in a caste system where some people are legal citizens and everyone else is "illegal". I knew someone from Brazil who was a computer programmer and she had overstayed her visa while applying for citizenship and was concerned for her own well-being from US ICE and even local police.

Migrants should feel proud of their work on farms and other workplaces. I support their push for fair protections under Vermont state law.

Shumlin should visit one of the farms or run-down trailer homes these people work or live in when he does his Douglas-like trips around the state. You can't improve Vermont farms and farmers without improving the situation for migrant farmers.

How about if I just move in to your house? Sure, I'll do some work, but you can't kick me out. And when you complain I'll call you a racist.

"We are part of the workforce in the dairy industry. If we were to be removed or deported, your state would be in an economic crisis. Everything would collapse."

That's it. That's the key quote here.

Complain about illegal aliens all you want, but if you wave a magic wand and deport them all tomorrow, we'd be in BIG trouble. Like it or not, our economy, especially the agricultural economy, runs on the backs of these people.


They are GUILTY of working very LONG HOURS at very DANGEROUS JOBS for very LOW WAGES to provide for their families!

How dare they!

"I don't believe in a caste system where some people are legal citizens and everyone else is "illegal"."

You're in the wrong country then, and quite possibly on the wrong planet. Most first world countries require permission for extended, or permanent, stays.

"We need to find a way to do at least two things:"

Your two goals are in direct conflict. Not saying which is right - much smarter people than anyone reading this can't quite figure that out - but achieving one would render the other impossible.

This may seem like a small problem in Vermont but nationaly these criminals are a financial burden to our southwestern states right up to Colorado and even in the mid atlantic states.We were almost killed by a farm worker that was drunk behind the wheel on Virginia's eastern shore.And we must not forget the children they have are born U.S. citizens and that policy should change also.All law enforcement should be on the look out for these people and they should be arrested and deported immeadeatly.To the farmers that employ them (Illeagal's)lock them up as well.And to the petition signers join the EB5 program and for 500,000 US dollars you can get a visa.

"Complain about illegal aliens all you want, but if you wave a magic wand and deport them all tomorrow, we'd be in BIG trouble. Like it or not, our economy, especially the agricultural economy, runs on the backs of these people."

^ This, all the way.

"we must not forget the children they have are born U.S. citizens and that policy should change also."

That isn't a policy. It's the 14th amendment of the US Constitution.

The 14th amendment was created in the aftermath of the Civil War, to prevent people like you from denying the basic civil rights of natural born American citizens.

As for the "illegals", they are people. They are our neighbors. They are very hard working people (that's why they are invited to work on our farms) and their only motivation is to provide for their families. They are willing to go to extreme lengths to make a better life for their parents and their children. There is nothing more HONORABLE than that.

In return for their hard work, they get low pay, zero legal protection and a whole lot of harassment from right wing ideologues.

It's time to start treating ALL of our neighbors with a basic level of human decency.

@ One Vermonter:

You just don't get it. You keep arguing that we should treat them nicely. That is NOT the issue. You're intentionally skirting the issue. No one's saying we should beat them or starve them or be mean to them. The ONLY issue is whether they are here illegally in the first place. Why can't you seem to distinguish between illegality and being nice? You don't get to break into this country, and stay. Period. You don't like the immigration laws? Change 'em. But don't whine when the authorities attempt to enforce them.

If I sneak into your house, and do a really, really good job of cleaning your kitchen, does that mean I get to stay in your house as long as I want? And when you call the police to have me removed, is it really your neighbors' place to whine that you're not being nice to me?

You say, "As for the "illegals", they are people. They are our neighbors."

No, they're not our "neighbors"; they're in our house. Otherwise they wouldn't be called "illegals." Neighbors are by definition people who live in another place. Duh. I have no problem being nice to my neighbors. They can come visit me any time I invite them. And then when it's time to go home they have to leave and go back to their own house. Get it?

" The ONLY issue is whether they are here illegally in the first place" Wrong. The issue is also about ignorant people who want to repeal the 14th amendment to the Constitution.

As for your analogy, it's just ridiculous. This is not a case of breaking and entering. This is a case of people who are here working as an essential part of our labor force with the implicit consent of farmers & businesses of all stripes.

Changing the immigration laws is exactly what I support. And the group that this blog post is about is trying to do just that. But it is difficult to do when there are people out there characterizing all migrant workers as drunks who are out driving around and killing innocent families. It's time to get past this foolishness and fix the immigration policies. Treating migrant workers as common criminals is not productive ... Or even physically possible as this point, without declaring martial law and arresting every brown person who can't produce his papers.

My analogy is not ridiculous. Sneaking across the border is breaking and entering. Under the law, you no longer have to smash a window or pick a lock or kick in a door in order to be gulity of B&E. You just have to enter a house that's not yours without permission. That's exactly what illegal immigrants do. No one has the right to enter another country against that country's laws.

And while you're attempting to change our immigration laws, the illegal aliens are still . . . illegal.

Tell you what, Mr. Solidarity-with-the-illegals, why don't you just sneak into Mexico without a passport or visa, and if you get past the border, stay there until you get caught, ok? Then see what happens. Call us from the detention center. You can tell the authorities there that you have a human right to be in their country regardless of their immigration laws and without their permission. Our "neighbors" to the south, whom your heart bleeds so badly for, will not think your escapade very funny.


To the guy who always posts with long usernames without spaces:

I'm curious to hear your solution to the problem. Shouting ILLEGAL over and over again doesn't count. Should we round them all up and deport them? What happens to the farms that employ these people? Do you think there are US citizens lining up to take these jobs with low pay and few benefits?

Speaking of ILLEGAL... is it still a law in Barre that citizens must bathe every Saturday night? And there used to be a Vermont law that made it a crime to deny the existence of God. Should we round up all those prominent Vermont atheists and throw them in jail? After all, what they're doing is...ILLEGAL! (and BTW, I fail to see how being in this country illegally, never leaving the farm you're employed at, working a hard job for low pay that no one else wants to do, is a considerably worse crime than failing to bathe on Saturday night.)

Lastly, your "how about I break into your house" analogy? You're kidding about that, right? You must realize how that analogy does not come close to applying here.

As for you, "send them all back"... you might be shocked to hear this, but each year, more US citizens are killed by American drunk drivers than illegal alien drunk drivers. In fact, across the board, more US citizens are killed by their fellow US citizens than by illegal immigrants! I think I see the REAL problem here!


To answer your question, yes, deport everyone who entered the country illegally, or who entered the country legally and outstayed their valid visa. When those jobs have to be done by Americans or not at all, suddenly they'll pay better.

BTW, you think my analogy of coming into your house and refusing to leave is not applicable? I'll tell you what's totally ridiculous: your comparison of violating the immigration laws to not bathing on Saturday night.

And what does this have to do with drunk driving? Nothing.


Your argument reminds me of a story I heard on NPR a few months ago ( In it, the president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council discusses the effect that Georgia's new immigration law has had on the unemployment rate. Georgia has started cracking down on illegal immigrants, who have, in response, started avoiding the state altogether. However, in a state with a 10% unemployment rate, farms are having a hard time replacing illegal immigrants with legal workers, despite promises of pay between $100 and $200 per day. It seems that no matter how well the job pays, no one wants the work.

If you can't operate a business legally, you shouldn't be operating the business.

"It seems that no matter how well the job pays, no one wants the work."

Ok, yours is a point made dispassionately, and taken.

But I wonder, given the federal government's hostility when states try to take the illegal immigration problem into their own hands, just how effective Georgia's crackdown actually is. In other words, is there a statistically valid cause-and-effect relationship supporting the conclusion that US citizens simply aren't interested/available to do farming work? Lord knows, hippies in Vermont seem to love doing it.

In addition to the link Bungalow Benchy posted, there's also an interesting post on Vermont Tiger about this issue today:

And here's the common thread between undocumented farmworkers and illegal Saturday bathers: they're both, essentially, victimless crimes. Someone breaking into your house is infringing on your property. An undocumented farmworker who rarely if ever leaves the farm they work on is welcomed onto that farmer's property.

The drunk driving bit was a response to that absurd comment, earlier, that made it sound like illegal immigrants are here to kill we red-blooded Americans. Errrr...sure.

The Secure Communities program affects our state autonomy. The program requires state and local authorities to run the fingerprints of every person arrested through a federal immigration database, and if there is a match, to cooperate with the federal authorities to detain and further process that individual. Sounds okay, right? Even if we want farmerworkers regardless of their documentation, we certainly don't want criminals! But this will lead to perception of state and local law enforcement as potential immigration agents, which will make undocumented AND documented immigrants (especially those who are not yet citizens) afraid to call the police. And it's a slippery slope from our police sending fingerprints to their database to our police going along on raids and otherwise doing ICE's dirty work for them.

"And it's a slippery slope from our police sending fingerprints to their database to our police going along on raids and otherwise doing ICE's dirty work for them."

There's nothing "dirty" about federal law enforcement agents actually enforcing U.S. immigration laws.

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