Vermonters value their privacy and are proud to live in vibrant and welcoming communities. Those values are threatened by a plan recently announced by the U.S. Border Patrol to build eight, 200-foot surveillance towers in six northern Vermont towns, with two more in upstate New York.
These proposed surveillance towers would have a transformational impact on our communities, threatening the privacy, civil liberties, and physical safety of community members, damaging local economies, and adding to the gradual militarization of our region. For all of these reasons, this proposal should be forcefully rejected.
Border communities on both the northern and southern borders are statistically some of the safest in the country. And yet, we have seen small towns in other states transformed by border militarization to the point they are now unrecognizable: surveillance towers, drones, military helicopters, and other forms of aerial surveillance are accompanied by an ever-expanding Border Patrol ground presence, with checkpoints, roving patrol stops, ground sensors, and agents trespassing onto private property with impunity.
These are American communities that now look and feel like war zones. It should go without saying that Vermonters don’t want that to happen here.
It’s also important to remember the agency advancing this proposal is responsible for extensive, documented human rights abuses nationwide; has a corrupt and toxic internal culture; and operates with zero meaningful oversight or accountability. We’ve all witnessed images of Border Patrol agents abducting protesters off of American streets and forcibly separating thousands of children from their parents. Indeed, it’s hard to overstate how dangerous the Border Patrol has become.
Consider also the fact that Border Patrol claims that it notified impacted communities about this proposal years ago. It turns out that’s false: local officials were in the dark as recently as last month, as was our Congressional delegation. Or consider its misleading statements to the press, claiming border crossings in Vermont are more common than the agency’s own statistics show them to be. All told, there could not be a less credible or less trustworthy actor to operate surveillance towers in Vermont communities.
Surveillance towers aren’t just harmful – they’re also completely unnecessary. Northern border crossings are a tiny fraction of the nationwide total. When we talk about “public safety,” it’s important to recognize it’s not people crossing borders, but the growing presence of a self-styled federal paramilitary force that endangers our communities.
Border communities in Vermont and nationwide already suffer deteriorated quality of life and civil rights abuses resulting from Border Patrol operations. The ACLU of Vermont has multiple lawsuits involving Border Patrol traffic stops and checkpoint stops, and recently settled a case in which the agency was targeting and deporting Vermont farmworkers in retaliation for their activism. The ACLU of Michigan just published a report documenting thousands of instances of systematic racial profiling by Border Patrol agents in tandem with local police.
Make no mistake, this proposal would do lasting harm to Vermont and the Border Patrol cannot be trusted to manage it. The ACLU strongly opposes this plan and recently submitted public comments detailing our objections, joined by hundreds of concerned Vermonters and the Vermont Attorney General. Our Congressional delegation has also weighed in, calling for an extension of the public comment period since Border Patrol failed to notify the local communities that will be most severely impacted.
But the fact is, we already know all we need to know about this proposal. Concerned Vermonters should call on their Congressional delegation to oppose surveillance towers outright, end the militarization of border regions, and dismantle and replace this rogue agency. Because Border Patrol isn’t going to change – as with federal immigration policy generally, we have to advance alternatives that are fundamentally different, better, and far more representative of our laws and our values.