Proposed ordinance would make Hanover akin to a sanctuary city

by Amber Bhutta | 1/31/20 2:05am

At the Hanover Selectboard meeting on Monday, a group of town residents introduced a proposed draft of a “Welcoming Hanover Ordinance” to prevent local law enforcement from enforcing immigration law — which would make Hanover similar to a “sanctuary city.” Dozens of community members, including a large portion of Dartmouth students, attended the meeting to voice support for the proposal. 

The proposed standards would prohibit police officers from considering “personal characteristics or immigration status” when determining reasonable suspicion, probable cause or other qualifying circumstances, according to the same document. The policy aims to reinforce standards of “fair and impartial policing practices” and is based on similar legislation passed in Chicago Exeter, NH and Winooski, VT. Efforts to implement similar legislation are currently underway throughout the Upper Valley in Lebanon, NH, Hartford, VT and Norwich, VT.  

“What I’ve learned over time is that often the police in these areas are ill-equipped emotionally — and in some ways in their analysis of the world, to deal with people of color, to deal with disabled people, to deal with poor brown people,” said Kale Camara ’21, who delivered testimony during the meeting and has advocated for similar legislation across the state. “I know people who’ve been pulled over for being brown and driving, basically.” 

The proposed ordinance also includes provisions that prevent the sharing of information with federal immigration authorities, such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. The proposal further stipulates that should any member of Hanover law enforcement become aware of the presence of federal immigration authorities, they must inform the town manager and Selectboard members. From there, the town manager and Selectboard must alert town residents through “any reasonable means and channels available to the Town.”

According to Asma Elhuni, lead organizer for the United Valley Interfaith Project, the proposed policy could make undocumented people and their families feel safer by officially separating local police from immigration authorities. She said during her testimony that the Selectboard has an obligation to pass the ordinance to acknowledge the concerns raised by people of color in Hanover. 

“We’re telling you, we don’t feel safe and we need you as people in power to do the right thing and say, ‘If you don’t feel safe, we’re gonna help you get there,’” Elhuni said. 

Last month, the Hanover police department reapproved a fair and impartial policing standard operating procedure. Advocates for the Welcoming Hanover Ordinance, however, consider the SOP insufficient on its own.

“I think to recognize that whenever it comes to civil rights issues, it’s always better to have a law because people are afraid,” Elhuni said.

Similar ordinances across the Upper Valley have faced legal challenges. Vermont National Lawyers Guild president Kira Kelley, who specializes in constitutional and municipal law and testified at the Selectboard meeting, anticipates that such challenges may arise in Hanover once the ordinance goes to the town officials for review.

“We’ve seen a lot of folks poking holes in these ordinances and trying to grasp a legal argument that they can craft around their desire to prevent change from happening, though that actually has nothing to do with what the truth of the law is,” Kelley said. 

Kelley noted that issues have arisen from 8 U.S.C. 1373 — a statute that prohibits local and state governments from restricting employees from sharing information regarding immigration status with the federal government. In the past, compliance with this statute has been used as stipulation to receive federal funding — a concern which has arisen in Lebanon regarding a similar ordinance. Kelley said she thinks that the statute was unconstitutional on the basis that the Tenth Amendment states that the federal government cannot regulate activities that fall within a state government’s purview. She added that a number of courts across the country have also struck 8 U.S.C. 1373 down.

“It’s not a valid argument to say that this local law violates a federal law because the federal law violates the Constitution,” Kelley said. “If you’re giving credence to an unconstitutional federal law, then you yourself are picking and choosing what laws you want to follow based on your own racism, prejudice [or] fear of change.”

After the ordinance goes through a review and approval process, Elhuni said the Selectboard will hold an official hearing to adopt the ordinance. She added that she and a number of other advocates hope the Selectboard will adopt the ordinance rather than having it voted upon by town residents during Hanover’s annual town meeting, which will take place in May.

“When we look at things like desegregating schools in the past or we look at gay marriage, if we allow that to go to the voters, we wouldn’t have those things today,” Elhuni said. “I think the right thing to do is actually having our representatives pass [the ordinance] and then making sure we teach people after that. It’s incredibly difficult when you just give it to the people, because especially in a very white town, people are scared about what does that mean for them, and they think it means taking away their power instead of sharing power and sharing the ability to feel safe.”

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