DHS settles with Vermont-based immigrant advocacy group over claims of political targeting

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has agreed to pay a Vermont-based immigrant advocacy organization $74,000 in legal fees to settle a lawsuit seeking information about whether advocates were being targeted by immigration agents because of their political activism.

A settlement filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Burlington says the group Migrant Justice, the Vermont Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, other advocacy groups and DHS agreed to dismiss the lawsuit filed in 2017.

The original litigation sought access to government communications to determine whether activists were being targeted. It resulted in the release of more than 8,000 pages of documents, said Lia Ernst, the legal director of the Vermont ACLU.

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The information in the documents received from the government through the lawsuit helped Migrant Justice reach a settlement in January 2020 with the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles not to share information about immigrant farm workers with federal authorities. The information also helped lead to a settlement in October 2020 in which the federal government agreed not to deport three immigrant activists.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not reply to an email seeking comment.

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In the original lawsuit, Migrant Justice, which works on behalf of immigrant farm workers in the state, used the Freedom of Information Act to seek information about whether some of the organization’s members were targeted because of their activism promoting issues important to the immigrants.

“The ACLU and our allies will continue fighting for the rights of immigrants in Vermont, and that includes seeking greater transparency and accountability from law enforcement agencies,” Ernst said in a statement.

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