MONTPELIER, Vt. – More than two dozen protesters on Monday showed support for two immigrant dairy farmers arrested after marching to a Ben & Jerry's factory to call for better pay and living conditions on farms that provide milk to the ice cream maker.
Mexican immigrants Yesenia Hernandez-Ramos and Esau Peche-Ventura were arrested Saturday and were being held on immigration charges, the Vermont Department of Corrections said.
A U.S. Border Patrol spokesman told Vermont Public Radio they were stopped in a routine check a few miles away from the U.S.-Canada border. The immigrant rights group Migrant Justice said they were arrested as they were returning to the farm where they work and live in Franklin County.
Protesters demonstrated Monday afternoon outside a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in St. Albans and in the morning at a correctional facility in South Burlington where Hernandez-Ramos was being held.
"We were there to denounce the arrest of Esau and Yesenia and to call on ICE to use their discretion to release them back to their families, back to their community so they can continue to live and work in Vermont and continue to raise their voice for their dignity and human rights," said Will Lambek, an organizer for Migrant Justice.
The state has about 1,000 Latino farm workers working or seeking work, and many are in the country illegally.
Migrant Justice says several of its leaders have been targeted for arrest by ICE in the past year.
Among them were Enrique Balcazar and Zully Palacios, who protested on Monday. They were arrested in March and were released later that month.
Lambek said a lawyer had met with Hernandez-Ramos and Peche-Ventura on Monday.
A Ben & Jerry's spokesman said Saturday before scores of dairy farm workers and activists marched 13 miles from the Statehouse to the Waterbury factory that the company was eager to reach an agreement with farm workers and negotiations were underway.
The Milk with Dignity program was created in 2014 by farmworkers and Migrant Justice to ensure that farms provide them fair wages and working conditions and decent housing. In 2015, Ben & Jerry's agreed to join the program. Since then, the two sides have been negotiating over the details.
Ben & Jerry's released a statement on Monday in response to the arrests:
"We are concerned that hard-working, productive members of our community, who contribute to the success of dairy farms in Vermont, would face criminalization," it said. "We need policy change that serves Vermont's dairy workers, farmers, and industry as a whole."