SOUTH BURLINGTON — A group of 80 people rallied Tuesday morning outside of the Chittenden County Sheriff’s Department, speaking out against the detention of a farmworker after a sheriff’s deputy called federal immigration authorities during a traffic stop.
Advocacy organization Migrant Justice says Chittenden County Sheriff’s Department deputy Jeffry Turner violated the agency’s fair and impartial policing policy by calling border patrol during a Nov. 22 stop, leading to the detention of Luis Ulloa.
Sheriff Kevin McLaughlin has defended Turner, saying he did not believe that Turner violated the policy that prevents the department from collaborating with federal authorities on civil immigration matters.
Tuesday’s protest was organized by Migrant Justice, which called for an independent investigation after the sheriff determined that Turner’s actions were consistent with the department’s policy.
Enrique Balcazar of Migrant Justice said the department had violated its own rules and put Ulloa in danger of being deported.
“We’re here because know that there is a violation of this policy, we want there to be a clear and transparent investigation,” Balcazar said. “We want to see accountability, we want to see justice for Luis.”
Ulloa is currently being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in New Hampshire and is facing deportation, according to Migrant Justice.
At the rally, demonstrators held signs that read “Is this fair? Release Luis,” “Vermont: What will we choose to be?” and “No Mas Polimigra,” which describes collaboration between police and federal immigration authorities in Spanish.
Speakers addressed the crowd in Spanish and were translated by Migrant Justice’s Will Lambek. The crowd chanted “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here” and “Vermont will fight for immigrant rights” as part of the demonstration.
Ulloa’s cousin, Juan Ulloa, was driving before the traffic stop and spoke at Tuesday’s rally. Juan Ulloa said he was driving too fast on I-89 when he was pulled over by Turner.
The sheriff’s deputy asked for identification from the car’s other occupants, Luis Ulloa’s girlfriend and Juan Ulloa’s girlfriend. Luis Ulloa gave him a Mexican passport, which Turner photographed before calling Border Patrol.
“I think that’s an injustice, because he didn’t have to get immigration to take my cousin away the way that he did,” Juan Ulloa said. “There was no need to ask for my cousin’s identification when it was me that was driving.”
Enrique Balcazar of Migrant Justice, right, listens as Will Lemback speaks during the protest. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger
Border Patrol pulled Luis Ulloa out of the car about an hour and a half after the initial stop, Juan Ulloa said.
“This is an injustice, what the police have done,” Juan Ulloa said.
Rosie Alfaro, a Vermont farm worker and member of the Migrant Justice coordinating committee, also spoke at the rally.
“Many of us live in fear everyday because we know the police do not respect the policies we fought to put in place,” she said.
Alfaro said a couple days ago her car recently slipped off the road when she was driving with her son. She thought about calling the police but said she was afraid that they would call immigration authorities, and she would be separated from her son.
“I felt like I was nothing at all in that moment,” Alfaro said. “I was terrified, I didn’t know what to do, and I had to sit there with my arms crossed, in that uncertainty, in limbo. Many of us who live in Vermont experience that same feeling of uncertainty, of fear, of not being able to count on the police.”
Balcazar said the department’s policy should stop the collaboration between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities.
“When we pass these laws and write these policies and they’re not respected, we’re left wondering, ‘What now?’” he said.
Juan Ulloa speaks Tuesday about the recent detention of his brother Luis. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger
McLaughlin said in a Monday statement that the car was traveling 80 mph in a 55-mph speed limit zone, and that Turner had “reasonable suspicion” that there had been a violation of federal law by some of the vehicle’s occupants.
“Deputy Sheriff Turner advises me that due to those circumstances and outstanding questions about the identity of some of the occupants of the car, he contacted U.S. Customs and Border Protection to assist,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin did not say what federal laws the deputy believed had been violated in his statement. Migrant Justice has questioned what federal criminal law violations Turner had suspected as none of the car’s occupants have been charged with violations.
Luis Ulloa, 21, has worked on dairy farms in Vermont and New York for the past four years and sent money to his mother and siblings in Mexico, according to Migrant Justice.