In its efforts to figure out what to do with the many Central American unaccompanied minors coming to the United States -- about 60,000 in recent weeks -- the White House has been asking several states if they have the resources to house some of these children. The office of Vermont's Democratic Gov. Pete Shumlin (D) told a local newspaper, "We've let HHS know that we are willing to investigate locations and logistical requirements and work with them to determine if Vermont would be an appropriate host state."
It's perhaps unsurprising that the state would be willing to help. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) has been a vocal proponent of immigration reform -- as has fellow Vermonter Sen. Bernie Sanders (I.).
The fact that their constituency back in Vermont is a big part of that support is less well known; about 1,500 undocumented immigrants live in Vermont, many working on dairy farms. About 80 percent of Vermont's farm production is just milk. There used to be more cows in Vermont than people. Most of these migrant workers spend their day milking or shoveling manure.
It's why both senators were pleased to see that the Senate's last immigration-reform bill -- which failed to make it through the House last year -- would provide legal status to for agriculture workers.
Vermont has welcomed many legal immigrants recently, too. In the past 25 years, more than 6,300 refugees have moved to Vermont as part of a federal refugee resettlement program, according to the local alternative newspaper Seven Days. That total includes "1,705 Bosnians, mostly Muslims; 1,437 Bhutanese, many of whom had been living in exile in Nepal; and about 1,000 Africans fleeing violence in Burundi, Congo, Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan."
When Leahy's office was asked about the possibility of the Central American children coming to Vermont by the Burlington Free-Press, his spokesperson replied, "Vermont has a long history of supporting refugees in need. Governor Shumlin and his team reflect that history and that ethic, and Senator Leahy applauds the Governor for the state's willingness to explore ways that Vermont may or may not be able to help."
In 2010, Leahy introduced the Refugee Protection Act, which "would strengthen the country’s commitment to protecting refugees fleeing persecution or torture."
Seven Days' report from this January says that the program seemed largely successful, although there have been incidents of racial insensitivity, and worries about reaching a "tipping" point. One worker at the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program told Seven Days, “We’ve been going through a long recession and everybody has been trying to look out for themselves.” There are several immigration advocacy groups in Vermont --Vermont Immigration and Asylum Advocates and Migrant Justice are also among the more prominent organizations. Advocacy groups are currently in the middle of a big push on improving housing for immigrant dairy workers.
Vermont has offered other legislative help to immigrants in the state. In 2013, the state legislature made it legal for undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers' licenses.
The state government hasn't completely embraced immigrants, however. In 2011, when the state's new health-care system was being debated, the state Senate voted to exclude undocumented immigrants from coverage. The state government then studied how possible in would be to include undocumented immigrants in the state's health-care plan. What will happen when the system finally debuts in a few years remains to be seen.