“Look the other way” is not leadership
by Vermont Republican Chair Pat McDonald
Discussions about immigration policy, and how best to respond to illegal immigration, can be difficult and often emotional. It is, to be sure, a complex issue. That’s why it is important that our elected officials respond to situations like these calmly and with theutmost caution.
In my opinion, the actions and statements of Governor Shumlin in the hours and days immediately following an incident in which a Vermont State Trooper turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol two suspected illegal aliens during the course of a traffic stop – first calling for an investigation into whether the Vermont State Police violated a voluntary anti-bias policy, and then stating on television that our law enforcement community should “look the other way” on immigration matters – only served to add fuel to an already explosive situation.
There is absolutely no doubt that many Vermont industries need foreign workers. Seasonal farms need foreign workers to help them harvest their crops. Large hotels and resorts need foreign workers to help them run their operations and keep Vermont’s tourism sector strong and vibrant.
There is also no doubt that these foreign workers contribute to Vermont’s quality of life in many ways. We are a state that should proudly welcome people from different cultures and backgrounds. Diversity makes us stronger, not weaker.
We should also never forget that most of us (myself included) have ancestors that emigrated to the United States from foreign lands, seeking the freedom and opportunity that only America could provide.
The difficulty lies in the fact that under our Constitutional system it is the federal government that has responsibility for developing laws on temporary and permanent immigration from other countries. Our state legislature does not possess the authority to pass laws that override and conflict with federal immigration laws, and our Governor (and Attorney General) certainly do not possess the authority to issue “voluntary policies” that do the same.
In other words, the Governor can’t just disregard laws that he doesn’t like. Existing laws must be enforced, and if the Governor disagrees with a certain law – be it state or federal – he should work to have that law changed instead of telling law enforcement to “look the other way.”
As I stated a few days after the incident, “look the other way” is not leadership, and it is simply not appropriate for a sitting Governor to be advising Vermont’s law enforcement community to disregard possible violations of the law, whether those laws are state or federal. Our police officers took an oath to uphold and enforce the law, not to ignore it.
Our previous Governor, Jim Douglas, faced a similar set of circumstances a few years ago and responded in a much more appropriate manner. On September 27, 2007, two undocumented farm workers from Mexico were arrested in the driveway of a Franklin County dairy farm. Coincidentally, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was visiting Vermont on that very same day.
Governor Douglas responded in a cool and measured way by bringing the arrests to the attention of Secretary Chertoff, and using it as an opportunity to impress upon federal officials the need for a comprehensive fix to federal immigration laws. He also told the Secretary he supported efforts by Senator Leahy that would have made it easier for foreign workers to be employed on Vermont farms, especially in year-round operations like dairy farming.
Governor Shumlin should commit to working with our Congressional delegation to address this issue at the federal level and not wait for another potential incident to occur in which aspersions are cast on the hard-working officers of the Vermont State Police or the situation is needlessly inflamed. We need a legal solution to make ever foreign worker in Vermont compliant with federal law.