Senate bill would add jail time to crimes perpetrated against immigrants

S316 would add ‘immigration status’ to hate crime protection list, gives state courts say in juvenile immigration

By Guy Page

February 24, 2020 – A bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee would allow a judge to add jail time to the sentence if the crime victim has “immigration status.” 

S316 would “add immigration status to the protected categories for hate-motivated crimes,” and also “extend jurisdiction to State courts to make special immigration juvenile status findings to allow a person to apply for special immigrant status.”

Sponsored by Sens. Becca Balint (D-Windham), Cheryl Hooker (D-Rutland), and Deb Ingram (D-Chittenden), S316 has already been discussed once in Judiciary and will get another look, likely with Vermont Law School immigrat advocate Erin Jacobsen in attendance, Balint said today. S316 does not appear on this week’s committee agenda, which includes bills about expungement of convictions, eliminating life without parole, and the status of Woodside juvenile facility. 

Many legislators and illegal immigrant advocates expressed concern when immigrant farm workers in Addison County were harassed by a group of young Vermont men last fall. The crimes were reported to the Attorney General under the Bias Incident Reporting System, but the charges filed by Vermont State Police didn’t mention hate crimes. 

Vermont law now allows a criminal judge to add significant jail time to crimes motivated by hatred against any person due to race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, age, service in the U.S. Armed Forces, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity, and perceived membership in any of those groups. 

S316 would add “immigration status” to that “protected category” list. Although the bill does not specify, “immigration status” typically is understood to apply to both legal and illegal immigrants. 

Under Vermont hate crime law, if the maximum penalty for the underlying crime is one year or less, the penalty for being motivated by shall be imprisonment for not more than two years or a fine of not more than $2,000, or both.

If the maximum penalty for the underlying crime is more than one year but less than five years, the penalty for a violation of this section shall be imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine of not more than $10,000, or both.

Also, a person who violates a hate-motivated crime injunction (court order) issued under 14 V.S.A 1465 this “shall be imprisoned not more than one year or fined not more than $2,000, or both.” A second offense can get the offender up to three years in jail or a $10,000 fine. 

S316 also would allow a Vermont court to seek to keep an immigrant minor in State of Vermont custody if considered in the best interests of the child. 

The Vermont Supreme Court ruled last June that although federal officials have jurisdiction over immigration matters, Vermont courts have an interest in child welfare. Based on that ruling, S316 says a Vermont court may give a child “special immigrant” status for several reasons, including “that it is not in the best interests of the child to be returned to the child’s or his or her parent’s previous country of nationality or country of last habitual residence.”

S316 also would allow 18-21 year olds to have a court-appointed guardian petition federal officials “for classification as a special immigrant juvenile.”

Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia), a member of Judiciary, said Monday he wants to hear more testimony before forming an opinion on S316. It is unclear if the federal government would recognize S316’s attempted extension of jurisdiction over immigrant juveniles. That is likely one of the questions Judiciary will pose to Jacobsen, who according to her Vermont Law School bio is “Assistant Professor and Supervising Attorney at Vermont Law School’s South Royalton Legal Clinic (SRLC), where she is the lead project attorney and project coordinator of SRLC’s Vermont Immigrant Assistance (VIA) Project. Prior to that, she was the Lead Staff Attorney at Vermont Immigration and Asylum Advocates in Burlington, Vermont.  Through VIA, Erin and her students provide free legal representation to indigent immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.”

Photo credit Migrant Justice Facebook Page. The migrant advocacy organization called attention to harassment of Addison County immigrant farmworkers by Vermont men last fall.