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Issues Facing Immigrants and Refugees in Vermont, Opportunities for Grassroots Action

The following information was prepared in June 2019 by the Revs. Heidi Edson and Mark Preece on behalf of Diocesan Council. This information can be updated upon request, and as the issues facing immigrants and refugees in Vermont evolve. Members and friends of The Episcopal Church in Vermont are encouraged to contact the listed organizations to get involved in grassroots action. Please contact us if you would like to recommend updates to this information that may be useful to the wider Diocese.

Opportunities for Grassroots Involvement

United Valley Interfaith Project

“Due to new federal policies, immigrants without documents living quietly among us are now in mortal fear of deportation by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE).” United Valley Interfaith Project works with several region-wide groups, including Vermont Interfaith Action, NH Immigrant Solidarity Network, & ACLU.

  • Immigrant Support Network. Organizing local clusters of faith communities, which, working together can provide support in many forms for immigrant families at risk, up to and including physical sanctuary. Other forms of support include financial assistance, food, childcare, family support, legal assistance, and more.
  • Accompaniment . We are organizing to accompany immigrants without documents when they must report to ICE. Prayer vigils outside ICE every time immigrants must report.
  • Know Your Rights Training. We are working to educate both immigrants and non-immigrants on the rights that immigrants – even without documents – have when confronted by ICE agents.
  • Rapid Response. We are organizing to rapidly deploy people to sites of ICE raids on homes or workplaces, to stand as observers and reporters of their deeds.

Vermont Interfaith Action

We really encourage congregations who wish to become more involved in the issue of immigration to join us in Migrant Justice’s No Mas Polimigra campaign where we are asking for local city council(wo)men and select board members to strengthen their local law enforcement’s Fair and Impartial Policing Policy. Again, if you have congregations/individuals who wish to be involved in this, we have resources we can offer. We do have documents that can help a congregation through the process of discernment should they wish to become sanctuary spaces. Finally, we could gather names of lawyers who have offered legal guidance in the past in regards to providing sanctuary if this would be helpful.  Organizers in B’ton and B’boro.

The Vermont Migrant Education Program (VMEP) and Bridges to Health provide educational and health support services to children and families that relocate in order to obtain seasonal or temporary employment in agriculture.

Bridges to Health

A health access program for Latino immigrant farmworkers. We work on an individual, family, and systems level to help workers and family members access affordable health care services in their local community.  Our biggest need is volunteers to provide transportation to health care appointments. The most need is in NW and NE of the state but at any given time there are needs in other parts of the state – it’s just less frequent. The other area of support that is needed relates to funds both for programming as well as occasionally for specific individuals who have significant health care needs and are ineligible for financial assistance/sliding fee/or insurance.  For example, we have a young kiddo getting about $16,000 worth of dental work done tomorrow of which about $6,000 was raised through outreach and fundraising through a local church.  Finally, if there are Spanish speaking leaders of the faith community, we occasionally work with farmworkers who are struggling with life challenges, stress, anxiety etc who may prefer speaking to a Spanish speaking leader/member of a church than to a social worker or counselor. This isn’t a frequent need but when it arises we are often scrambling to identify potential options.

Contact: Naomi Wolcott-MacCausland, Migrant Health Coordinator
nwolcott@uvm.edu | (802) 524-6501 ext. 447

The Vermont Migrant Education Program

The Vermont Migrant Education Program provides educational support services to eligible children and youth who relocate independently or with their families in order to obtain seasonal or temporary employment in agriculture.

Huertas

is a kitchen garden project that increases access to fresh food in the summer. We work with college students who help with the outreach and are able to pay them stipends and cover mileage largely through private donations. community-based food security project that enables Latino/a migrant farmworkers and families living on Vermont’s dairies to access culturally familiar and local foods through cultivating kitchen gardens. Now in its sixth year, with an established network of farmworkers, growers, and volunteers, Huertas builds gardens and distributes seeds and plant starts to Latino/a migrant farmworkers living in rural Vermont.

New England High School Equivalency Program (HEP) helps eligible migrant and seasonal farm workers and members of their immediate family obtain the equivalent of a high school diploma, and subsequently gain employment or pursue postsecondary education.  HEP offers program participants a free tablet and access to online curriculum available in both English and Spanish, thus enabling program participants to complete an individualized and self-paced course of study in preparation for passing the GED exam.  This program is offered in partnership with other New England states of Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Contact: Claire Bove, Vermont HEP Coordinator Office: 802-388-4969 x 338   Cell: 802-249-4611  claire.bove@uvm.edu

Migrant Justice

“Our members have defined community problems as a denial of rights and dignity and have prioritized building a movement to secure these fundamental human rights to: 1) Dignified Work and Quality Housing; 2) Freedom of Movement and Access to Transportation; 3) Freedom from discrimination; 4) Access to Health Care.”

  • Ground-breaking Milk with Dignity agreement with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in 2017;
  • Organizing public pressure to free community members detained by ICE and Border Patrol
  • Organizing a powerful network of farmworkers, farmers, and allies to win legislation in 2013 for all VT residents to access drivers licenses, regardless of immigration status.

On Thursday May 30th, Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed H.518 — the No Polimigra bill — into law.  Migrant Justice drafted and fought for this legislation. Its passage gives local communities more power to strengthen policies that stop the collaboration between police and federal immigration authorities (known in Spanish as “polimigra”).

Action Alerts. The Migrant Justice website also has action alerts, likeTake Action to Free Farmworkers Detained at Walmart. On June 23rd, three farmworkers were driven by a friend to the nearby Walmart in Newport, VT to send money to their families. After getting a tip that could only be based on racial profiling, Border Patrol agents pulled over the car and arrested all the occupants. The driver was released after several hours. The dairy workers — Ismael, Mario, and Ubertoni — are being held in immigration detention and ICE is moving to deport all three. Farmworkers Ismael, Mario, and Ubertoni are now in immigration detention and facing deportation. Take action now to send a letter demanding their release!


A Report to Diocesan Council on Immigrants & Refugees in Vermont, Presented June 29, 2019

By the Rev. Heidi Edson
(Updated October 8, 2019)

On or around the 25th of June, I had a phone conversation with Wendy Grace from Trinity Episcopal Church in Rutland, VT.  Wendy serves as the liaison person between the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and faith communities here in the State of Vermont. 

Wendy Grace reported that, under the current administration, the refugees resettlement office  program in Rutland, VT  that was set to open in 2017 was (in her words) “zeroed out” due to a lack of funding coupled with an executive order by President Trump to radically reduce the number of refugees allowed in the country.[1]

Before the office’s closure, Rutland had received fourteen refugees mostly from Bhutan and Sudan.  These refugees still live in the Rutland area but are struggling with having sufficient resources made available to them.  They must rely on neighbors for help.  Wendy shared with me the fallout from President Trump’s “Allowable Refugees” order he has been enacting since shortly after he took office in Jan. of 2017.

While still searching for information about Vermont’s refugee and immigrant situation, I consulted the website of the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) that gave information about the Vermont Branch in Colchester.[2]   Amelia Merdzanovic, former refugee from Bosnia and Herzegovenia, is director of the Colchester office. 

The USCRI’s approach seeks to help refugees and immigrants by employing a six-pronged approach:  1) basic need such as food, housing and clothing, 2) employment needs that help foster hope and rebuild lives, 3) healthcare needs, 4) education for both adults and children, 5) relationship and connection-building in the community with police and social workers, etc., and 6) trusted legal representation.  

USCRI states that the processing period of integration into the U.S. for the immigrants and refugees is tedious and unpredictable.  Applications take up to thirteen months before they are processed.      


[1] See https://www.burlingtonfreepress.com – Jan. 26, 2017. Article by Jess Aloe
[2] See https://www.facebook.com/USCRIVT


Useful Statistics

Population of Immigrants in VT by Percentages, according to the American Immigration Council:

  • Canada – 14.9%
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina – 8.1%
  • Mexico – 6.2%
  • Germany – 5.1%
  • Nepal – 4.5%

Population of Refugees in VT, according to Seven Days Vermont

Since 1989, the total number of Refugees in Vermont is 6,300. 

  • Bosnian Refugees number 1,705.
  • Bhutanese Refugees number 1,437.  Main religion is Islam.
  • African Refugees fleeing violence in their home countries number 1,000.

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