Sorrell Asks For "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Policy With Undocumented Workers

11/19/10 5:04PM By John Dillon
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(Host) Attorney General Bill Sorrell has proposed an immigrant friendly law enforcement policy that says police should not ask whether a person is in this country legally.

As VPR's John Dillon reports, the policy is designed to address racial profiling.

(Dillon) Sorrell says he wants to make it easier for people to go to police, regardless of their immigration status. He pointed out that the state has many foreign-born residents, including Mexicans who work on dairy farms. Yet he said some may be reluctant to seek help if they've been assaulted or robbed.

(Sorrell) "We don't want to see a situation where a victim or a witness to a crime is afraid to cooperate with law enforcement because of a fear of what might be federal immigration law implications."

(Dillon) Sorrell says the Vermont approach stands in contrast to a law passed in Arizona, which requires police to ask about immigration status and then turn over suspects to federal immigration authorities.

(Sorrell) "The Arizona law is an example of shall ask, and shall tell. Our proposed policy is a Vermont variation of don't ask, don't tell."

(Host) The attorney general says there is no requirement under federal law for local law enforcement to ask whether crime victims are in the country legally.

He says the clear exception would be if the person is suspected of a crime, gang activity or are a threat to homeland security

(Sorrell) "We've got a lot of state crimes that are our primary responsibility and concern to enforce and we're not going to go out of our way to bother otherwise law-abiding citizens no matter what race, creed or color they are."

(Dillon) The attorney general's office developed the bias free policing policy at the suggestion of the Vermont Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. The committee prepared a report last year on racial profiling in Vermont.

Curtis Reed is the chairman of the advisory committee. He says the proposed policy is a positive step, but..

(Reed) "We are mindful this work is for naught if local law enforcement departments across the state choose to ignore the attorney general's proposed policy."

(Dillon) Sorrell says he cannot impose the policy on local police agencies. But he's asking them to consider it.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.

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