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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

RNC, Vermont GOP Sue Winooski and Montpelier Over Noncitizen Voting

Posted By and on Tue, Sep 28, 2021 at 12:36 PM

  • Luke Eastman
Updated at 5:53 p.m.

Republicans are suing the cities of Winooski and Montpelier in an effort to strike down recent charter changes that allow noncitizens to vote in local elections.

The suits, brought by the Vermont GOP and the Republican National Committee, contend that the cities' new charters violate the Vermont Constitution, which limits voting to U.S. citizens 18 and over. In the complaints, attorney Brady Toensing wrote that the limit should apply to municipal elections, contending that in modern times, they are not distinct from their state and national counterparts.

"Over the years, the state has become more and more involved in what previously were strictly local matters, erasing distinctions that previously existed between local and state affairs," he wrote.

Both municipalities passed the charter changes by wide margins, and the Vermont legislature approved them earlier this year, too. But Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the measures on the grounds that “highly variable town-by-town approach” to local voting effectively creates “separate and unequal classes of residents.” The state House and Senate overrode Scott's veto in June.

“If we truly believe in local control, then members of these communities can say who they believe should have a say in local elections,” Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint (D-Windham) said at a press conference in June.

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Friday, September 24, 2021

Vermont Supreme Court Deals Blow to Border Agents' Roving Patrols

Posted By on Fri, Sep 24, 2021 at 3:36 PM

A vehicle leaving an interior Border Patrol checkpoint - MATTHEW ROY ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Matthew Roy ©️ Seven Days
  • A vehicle leaving an interior Border Patrol checkpoint
Border patrol officers can search Vermonters' cars without a warrant under their special federal authority to conduct "roving" patrols within 100 miles of the U.S. border. But, as of Friday, evidence they collect during the controversial searches can no longer be used to prosecute crimes in state courts, a narrow majority of the Vermont Supreme Court ruled.

Civil liberties advocates, as well as the Vermont Attorney General's Office, celebrated the 3-2 decision as a significant check on U.S. Customs and Border Patrol's broad enforcement authority throughout most of Vermont.

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Friday, June 4, 2021

Law Firm That Advised Quiros on EB-5 Projects to Pay $32.5 Million Settlement

Posted By on Fri, Jun 4, 2021 at 6:29 PM

A chart detailing the alleged inappropriate flow of funds within the Jay Peak and Q Burke EB-5 projects - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • A chart detailing the alleged inappropriate flow of funds within the Jay Peak and Q Burke EB-5 projects
The law firm accused of helping the former owner of Jay Peak resort defraud investors has agreed to pay $32.5 million to the court-appointed receiver untangling the mess left behind by the massive scandal.

Michael Goldberg, the receiver, filed the settlement agreement with the firm Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp Friday in U.S. District Court in Southern Florida. The firm provided legal advice to Ariel Quiros, the Miami businessman accused of bilking investors in development projects in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

Goldberg argued that the firm “breached [its] fiduciary duties and aided and abetted the fraud orchestrated by Quiros” and therefore was responsible for the fraud going on as long as it did.

Quiros and his partner, William Stenger, were accused of misusing $200 million of $350 million raised through the state EB-5 program, which financed development projects funded by foreign investors hoping to obtain green cards.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Federal Relief Could Fund Farmworker Housing Improvements, Advocates Say

Posted By on Wed, Apr 21, 2021 at 4:10 PM

Farmworker Jose Luis Cordova in housing that was built through the Milk with Dignity program - COURTESY OF MIGRANT JUSTICE
  • Courtesy of Migrant Justice
  • Farmworker Jose Luis Cordova in housing that was built through the Milk with Dignity program
Housing for Vermont’s undocumented dairy farm workers, long described by advocates as a critical problem, could be improved by the federal COVID-19 relief funds that are flowing into the state.

The Vermont Housing Conservation Board plans to use half a million dollars to fix up farmworker quarters in the coming year. That amount could be higher if the housing allocation in the state budget increases.

Momentum for fixing the longstanding problems, which affect an estimated 2,000 dairy farm workers, has picked up this year, said Rep. Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury), the chair of the House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs. He held an informational hearing Wednesday with the House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry to hear from advocates, saying he had never tackled the topic in the committee before.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Vermont Officials Blast Proposal for Border Surveillance Towers

Posted By on Wed, Mar 17, 2021 at 7:18 PM

  • Kym Balthazar
Vermont's congressional delegation on Wednesday became the latest officials to express concerns about a U.S. Customs and Border Protection proposal to construct surveillance towers along the state's border with Canada, with many calling the plans an unwarranted threat to personal privacy.

The federal agency has proposed up to eight new camera sites in Vermont, with 120-foot surveillance towers floated at five potential locations in Derby, Franklin, Richford, Highgate and Troy. Other cameras could be placed on existing buildings in Derby Line and Highgate, according to a plan unveiled last month; two other towers are proposed for New York.

Border patrol already uses cameras in locations along Vermont's border with Canada. But the towers would be the first of their kind in the state, marking a significant escalation in the agency's surveillance program here. More than two dozen other towers are already in use across various northern border points to the west.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

ICE Agrees to Stop Deportations of Three Migrant Justice Activists

Posted By on Wed, Oct 28, 2020 at 7:47 PM

Enrique Balcazar, one of the plaintiffs, addressing the crowd on Wednesday - COLIN FLANDERS ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Colin Flanders ©️ Seven Days
  • Enrique Balcazar, one of the plaintiffs, addressing the crowd on Wednesday
Immigration and Customs Enforcement will cease deportation proceedings against three Migrant Justice activists and pay $100,000 to settle a federal lawsuit claiming it had unlawfully targeted the advocacy group's members.

The settlement ends a federal lawsuit filed two years ago that alleged ICE had illegally sought to stifle Migrant Justice's political activism through a campaign of harassment, surveillance, arrests and deportation.

The agreement requires ICE to send a memo to its Vermont employees reiterating that they should not profile, target or discriminate against any individual or group for “exercising First Amendment rights.”

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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Farmworker Activist Dies of COVID-19 Following Deportation

Posted By on Tue, Jul 7, 2020 at 4:25 PM

Durvi Martinez at a Burlington Pride Parade in 2019 - COURTESY OF MIGRANT JUSTICE
  • Courtesy of Migrant Justice
  • Durvi Martinez at a Burlington Pride Parade in 2019
A 32-year-old Vermont farmworker and Migrant Justice activist died of COVID-19 in Mexico last week after being deported in March, the group said Tuesday. 

Durvi Martinez, a trans woman who used they/them pronouns, "was a brave and outspoken advocate for immigrant and LGBTQ rights," the organization said in a statement Tuesday announcing their July 1 death. "Durvi will be remembered as a loving and supportive friend."

Martinez is believed to have contracted the new coronavirus in Mexico, but Migrant Justice said it holds U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement responsible for their "unjust" detention, deportation and death.

"Rather than releasing Durvi, ICE deported them to their death," the group said.

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Thursday, July 2, 2020

Federal Furloughs Would Impact More Than 1,100 in Vermont

Posted By on Thu, Jul 2, 2020 at 9:26 AM

A sign near the border - FILE: MARK DAVIS
  • File: Mark Davis
  • A sign near the border
A federal immigration agency will furlough more than 1,100 Vermonters next month in response to a looming budget deficit, according to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who implored his colleagues Wednesday afternoon to pass a new relief bill that could prevent the temporary job losses.

"These are men and women who day after day do important work for the nation," Leahy said in remarks from the Senate floor. "They've continued to do that work every day even during the COVID-19 pandemic. And even though they've been doing the work loyally and effectively, after August 3rd, they can no longer do their job; they no longer will receive a paycheck."

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has more than 19,000 employees whose main tasks include processing requests for asylum, immigration benefits and American citizenship. Vermont hosts one of the nation's five USCIS service centers, with 1,700 workers located mainly in Essex and St. Albans.

The agency had warned for weeks that it would need to furlough employees in response to the pandemic, but it had not confirmed exactly how many Vermonters would be impacted. That revelation came last Friday, when the agency sent furlough notices to 13,350 of its employees, 1,111 of whom are Vermont workers, Leahy said.

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Monday, March 16, 2020

Bridging Language Barriers: Bidur Dahal

Posted By on Mon, Mar 16, 2020 at 12:06 AM

Bidur Dahal - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Bidur Dahal
Editor's note: Seven Days is profiling some of the people defending Vermonters from COVID-19.

Bidur Dahal is usually busy this time of year preparing for the Hindu festival of Ram Navami, a birth celebration for the deity Rama. Dahal, a founding member of the Vermont Hindu Temple on Allen Street in Burlington, prints up flyers and promotes the event on the temple’s Facebook page. But this year, the coronavirus has changed things: Temple leadership has postponed Ram Navami and all other events until further notice.

“We ideally don’t want any gatherings anymore now until this subsides, is over,” Dahal said. 

The temple has been mostly empty lately, although the altar is festooned with   flowers and twinkling lights against a backdrop of colorful prints of gods and goddesses. Instead of congregating in front of the altar, worshippers are encouraged to pray and chant at home. 

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Burlington City Council Passes Amended Impartial Policing Policy

Posted By on Tue, Mar 10, 2020 at 1:27 AM

Activists at City Hall - COURTNEY LAMDIN
  • Courtney Lamdin
  • Activists at City Hall
The Burlington City Council on Monday night voted to adopt a policy that will bar local police from collaborating with federal immigration agents.

The council voted 11 to 1 to approve a new Fair and Impartial Policing Policy, with outgoing City Council President Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4) casting the lone no vote.

The sizable crowd erupted in cheers as soon as the vote total was announced.

“Vermont will fight for immigrant rights!” they chanted.

The elation was in stark contrast with the tense atmosphere that dominated most of the hourlong discussion. When a member of the crowd applauded or spoke out of turn, Wright threatened to delay action on the item, which drew a large, passionate crowd at two consecutive city council meetings.

The council president's attempts to restore decorum were met with boos and jeers. When someone interrupted Councilor Chip Mason (D-Ward 5)'s statement, Wright urged them to listen to differing points of view. "Well fuck you, too!" the person yelled in response.

After the vote, a Channel 17 livestream of the meeting recorded Wright discussing his thoughts on the vote.

“I’m ashamed of this council,” he said. “I really am.”

"Nothing but a bunch of pandering city councilors," Wright continued. "Just pandered to them. Disgraceful."

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