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Sanctuary policies land on NH town meeting ballots

Sunday News Correspondent

February 25. 2017 11:55PM
The town hall in Durham was packed for a town council meeting Feb. 6, 2017, as the public came out to speak about becoming a sanctuary city. A number of people spoke in favor of the designation, while others opposed the measure. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

PETERBOROUGH - Some Granite Staters will decide at upcoming town meetings if they want to adopt sanctuary-city-like policies.

A petition article with immigration reporting language has garnered enough signatures to be placed on the Peterborough Town Meeting ballot in May, state Rep. Ivy Vann of Peterborough said Thursday.

The article states, "In order to ensure that Peterborough is a safe and welcoming community for all, employees of the town of Peterborough shall not inquire about, report, or act upon any person's immigration status under any circumstances while performing their duties."

A petition article, which doesn't use the term sanctuary, was also circulated in neighboring Monadnock Region towns and is to appear on the March town meeting ballots of Hancock, Temple and Wilton.

"There are plenty of documented studies that say when police don't ask for documented status it makes communities safer because people are more willing to call police," Vann said.

Vann helped write the petition article with a group of area residents who started meeting at her home before the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

Vann doesn't believe adopting the petition article at town meeting would change how Peterborough employees conduct business. "As far as I know, no one is collecting immigration status and this says we don't want to do it in the future either."

At the Peterborough selectmen's meeting Tuesday, a group of residents asked the board to decree Peterborough a sanctuary city.

The term sanctuary city typically means a municipality that protects illegal immigrants by not reporting them for violating federal immigration laws.

Peterborough selectmen as well as town staff said doing so could cut off vital town infrastructure funding that comes from the federal government. Trump has pledged to strip sanctuary cities from federal funds.

"We pay the salaries of our policemen and our clerks," Vann said. "(The initiative) merely says we are not going to collect this information. It's not relative to anything we do, and we're not going to collect it. ... It makes all of us less safe to have that kind of uncertainly."

There are currently no sanctuary communities in New Hampshire, however, both the towns of Durham and the city of Portsmouth have discussed declaring sanctuary status after Trump took office.

The issue also came up in Hanover last week. Hanover town manager Julia Griffin and Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis spoke Wednesday night at an event held by the newly formed Upper Valley Coalition for Immigrants and Refugees on the idea of making Hanover a sanctuary city.

"We basically talked about how we are already functioning like a sanctuary city," Griffin said Friday. "So having to go through the steps of adopting the status doesn't make a whole lot of sense for us."

Because of Dartmouth College, the town has a large foreign population, Griffin said. And Trump's orders on immigration and enforcement have many in the college town concerned, she said.

Griffin said when Hanover police pull over a motorist for a minor traffic violation or arrest a Dartmouth College student for underage drinking, the immigration status of the person is not asked for or collected. However, if someone is arrested on a charge that warrants a stay in the county jail in Grafton, "All bets are off," Griffin said.

How the Grafton County Sheriff's Department handles the issue is out of the hands of the town, she said.

Griffin said town officials have recently reached out to the sheriff's office to start a dialogue about the fact that town police don't ask for the documented status of people arrested or stopped in Hanover, she said.

"We're not interested in becoming an arm of ICE, immigration law is civil law, not criminal law. Police don't have a role," Griffin said.

Griffin said she would not be surprised if a petition article similar to the one started in Peterborough appeared on the Hanover Town Meeting ballot in May and was approved by voters.

Though small, Hanover is a town of means and takes little, if any, federal funds, Griffin said, adding she would be more concerned if Hanover were a sanctuary city it could affect the college's ability to receive federal research grants, adding Trump's ability to withhold federal funds from college's remains to be seen, she said.

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