Supporters rally to block Vt. activist’s deportation
By DAVE GRAM
The Associated Press | June 11,2013
AP File Photo
Danilo Lopez, center, applauds during the signing last week of a bill allowing immigrants who are in the country illegally to drive in Vermont.
MONTPELIER — A man at the center of the push to get Vermont driver’s licenses for farmworkers in the country illegally is getting support from his fellow activists in his own battle against deportation.
The group Migrant Justice has launched a letter-writing campaign in hopes that Danilo Lopez, a 23-year-old native of Chiapas, Mexico, will be allowed to remain in Vermont.
Lopez was one of two Mexican nationals in the country illegally who were riding in the back seat of a car operated by a Vermont driver who was stopped for speeding by a state trooper in 2011.
Lopez and his cousin Antonio Meza-Sandoval were turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol. Meza-Sandoval later voluntarily returned to Mexico, but Lopez, who had been working on a dairy farm in Charlotte, stayed in the United States.
Since then, Lopez has appeared frequently at the Statehouse, testifying through an interpreter to legislative committees about the need to allow workers like him who are in the country without the required authorization to get driver’s licenses.
Lopez is one of an estimated 1,500 foreign nationals living in Vermont who are in the country illegally but who are providing what many farmers say is crucial labor on the state’s dairy farms. Current federal law allows foreign agricultural workers to work in the United States on a seasonal basis. Jamaican apple pickers can be seen in many of the state’s orchards in the fall.
There is no provision for more permanent dairy workers who milk cows year-round, which is something U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he wants to change. The Senate is taking up comprehensive immigration reform this week, and Leahy said recently that he supports provisions that would allow dairy workers to remain in the country for three years, with a possible three-year extension.
The driver’s license effort by Lopez and other activists culminated last week in Gov. Peter Shumlin signing a bill to set up new so-called driver’s privilege cards for people who don’t want or are ineligible for a new type of enhanced driver’s license.
Meanwhile, Lopez grappled with his own immigration problems.
Lopez said Monday he recently received a letter from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that an appeal of a deportation order had been denied and that he must leave the country by July 6.
“My community is organizing itself and doing what we can,” Lopez said through an interpreter. “People know that when we’re successful it can have an impact on their own lives as well.”
Migrant Justice has been collecting letters in support of Lopez. It offers a template to supporters who want to write to immigration authorities. Lopez “is not a threat to public safety, he has no criminal record and he has been an asset to the Vermont community,” the template reads.
Shawn Neudauer, spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, provided links to two agency documents detailing the criteria for ICE to use its prosecutorial discretion and defer the removal from the country of someone like Lopez. The agency said its top targets for removal are people who pose a threat to national security or who have been involved in crimes.