A data center operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Williston, Vermont will be the focus of a protest march this weekend.
According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website, the Law Enforcement Support Center in Williston, a suburb of Burlington, “….is a single national point of contact that provides timely immigration status, identity information, and real-time assistance to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies on aliens suspected, arrested, or convicted of criminal activity.”
As of Friday morning, 58 diverse groups are co-sponsoring a protest march to the facility this weekend. Peace and Justice Center Executive Director Rachel Siegel believes most Vermonters don’t realize such a facility is operating in the state. “It serves two purposes. One is as a call center. So if somebody anywhere in the country sees someone who is quote-unquote suspicious and they call the 800 number for ICE that call comes to our Williston center. And then the dispatcher will call an agent in that region to go and potentially detain, arrest and deport that person. So we are a critical hub right here in Vermont for the work that I think is immoral in most cases. They also are the data center so all the information they have is stored in Williston.”
Many of the march supporters are immigrant advocates such as Migrant Justice and Rights and Democracy. But the diverse support includes a number of religious congregations such as Burlington’s Ohavi Zedek Synagogue. Rabbi Amy Joy Small says the march reflects their mission. “Ohavi Zedek means Lovers of Justice. So it is definitional for us in our name and in our reading of Jewish text and tradition that we must actively pursue justice. And that has been a long tradition in this congregation.”
Ohavi Zedek Cantor Steve Zeidenberg says there is concern about the secrecy surrounding ICE’s Williston support center. “What worries us is that we believe there is information stored at this facility and being used to imprison unfairly and there hasn’t been a lot of transparency in terms of what the information is being used for and we really believe there needs to be justice with all of the ICE activities.”
Rabbi Small calls the upcoming march crucially important to raise awareness about what is happening locally. “People tend to think about this as a problem happening someplace else. But it is happening here with farm workers who are being picked up and imprisoned and deported in Vermont. And that people do not know that this ICE facility is here. And there’s great deal of concern about the treatment of asylum seekers and the family separation policies and the discrimination against queer and trans-migrants that is part of our call for justice. So it’s very important to raise awareness of this facility.”
Recently, Vermont was one of a few states cited by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology that allowed ICE and other federal law enforcement agencies access to its Department of Motor Vehicle facial recognition software. In 2017, Vermont’s governor ordered the DMV to stop sharing the information after state Attorney General T.J. Donovan determined the practice violated state law.
Organizers plan to gather at 2:30 Sunday afternoon at the Vermont Technical College in Williston and at 3 p.m. begin the one-mile march to the ICE Data Center.