Immigrant advocacy group Migrant Justice is suing the federal government, saying law enforcement sent civilian infiltrators to their meetings in an attempt to combat grassroots activism.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Burlington, alleges that the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles colluded with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security to illegally “harass, arrest and detain” agricultural activists. Migrant Justice names each of the three agencies as defendants.
Seven Days VT reports that the plaintiffs are represented by a ‘coalition of activists and legal heavyweights.’ Backing up Migrant Justice are the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, the National Immigration Law Center, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a Los-Angeles based law firm.
Migrant Justice spokesman Will Lambek claims that nearly 40 of the organization’s workers have been arrested and deported within the past two years.
Nine of them, Lambek says, were taken away because of their work for Migrant Justice.
“It’s had a severe and drastic impact on our ability to carry out our mission, which is to bring immigrant farm workers together to defend and advance their human rights,” Lambek said.
The ACLU alleges that state and federal agencies have violated activists’ fundamental rights.
“To be clear, this suppression of core political speech violates fundamental bedrock constitutional law, and we will not stand for it,” ACLU-Vermont lawyer Lia Ernst said, speaking to a crowd in Burlington, VT on Wednesday.
One of the four plaintiffs in the suit, Zully Palacios Rodriguez, said she and another Migrant Justice member were arrested by undercover agents in 2017. According to Rodriguez, ICE attempted to access her e-mail account and has also used a ‘confidential informant’ to spy on the group and gather information about its members and their legal statuses.
“But I wasn’t doing anything bad. The only thing I was doing was raising my voice to defend my rights and human rights of my community,” Rodriguez said, speaking through an interpreter. “So that’s why we’re here today to file a lawsuit against ICE, to stop this abuse of power and these targeted arrested because organizing is not a crime. Speaking out for your rights is not a crime, and migration is a human right.”
Valley News says one allegation is that the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles coordinated with ICE to arrest immigrants due in the DMV for scheduled appointments.
DMV e-mails obtained by the ACLU in 2017 showed that ‘department investigators sent information to ICE on migrants they suspected gave false information on their applications for driver identification cards.’ Vermont, writes the Valley News, has a driver card program that’s specifically intended to provide undocumented immigrants with licenses.