There was a kerfluffle in my home state this past week when two undocumented migrant farm laborers were detained after a traffic stop (both were passengers in the car). The Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project claimed that the two men were racially profiled in violation of Vermont State Police policy, which prohibits police from requesting immigration papers from people who are not suspected of a crime.

Governor Peter Shumlin’s reaffirmed the state’s commitment to a humane stance of immigration:

Shumlin said Vermont should “look the other way” when it comes to dealing with immigrants working illegally on Vermont farms. “We have always had a policy in Vermont where we kind of look the other way as much as we can,” Shumlin told WPTZ. “I just want to make sure that’s what’s we’re doing. [Vermont farms] can’t survive without workers from outside America. It’s just the way it is. ”

[…]

Shumlin ordered an investigation of the incident on Tuesday to determine whether the traffic stop violated with the state police’s “bias-free policing policy.”

Unsurprisingly, Vermont ( republicans are trying to demagogue the issue:

“Rather than turning a blind eye to laws he doesn’t like, Gov. Shumlin should be working with our congressional delegation, as former Gov. Douglas and Sen. Leahy did, towards finding legal solutions that would make every foreign worker in Vermont compliant with federal law, and that wouldn’t result in a depression of wages for those foreign workers that are in Vermont legally,” [ GOP chairwoman Pat] McDonald’s statement read.

“The hardworking officers of the Vermont State Police took an oath to uphold the law,” the GOP statement went on. “The governor’s new policy of ‘look the other way’ may sound good to those that support illegal immigration, but it is not the appropriate guidance a sitting governor should be giving to Vermont’s law enforcement community.”

Of course Shumlin should work with Vermont’s congressional delegation to advocate for immigration reform at the national level. But that doesn’t mean that Shumlin shouldn’t do what is directly within his power as a governor to promote a sensible immigration policy at the state level. These two measures are not mutually exclusive, as McDonald implies.

Immigration restrictionists often make the kind of argument put forth by McDonald. The police have a responsibility to uphold the law, so any policy telling them to “look the other way” forces them to violate their oath of service. Using the words “look the other way” was perhaps a mistake on Shumlin’s part, since it gave McDonald and the republicans a concise soundbyte that seems to be anti-law enforcement. However, upon closer scrutiny, McDonald’s argument doesn’t hold up.

There are many more criminal acts that take place each day than the police could possibly respond to. If this isn’t obvious to you, note how many people are driving over the speed limit the next time you’re on the interstate. Inevitably, the police have to choose the best way to deploy limited resources. It’s just common sense that they should prioritize law enforcement against crimes that endanger other people and have a significant detrimental effect on society.

Immigration involves human beings coming into the country in order to engage in peaceful,  mutually beneficial, voluntary exchange of labor for wages. They do jobs that Americans cannot or will not do, and they strengthen our economy. The fact that the United States has laws on the books that place such draconian restrictions on this activity is deeply unjust. But given that, for now at least, we are stuck with these laws, it makes perfect sense, and is completely legitimate, for the police to focus on fighting crime that actually hurts people.

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