CONCORD — A national anti-immigration group has identified Cheshire County and five New Hampshire municipalities, including Manchester, as providing sanctuary for illegal immigrants as the Legislature debates a bill that would outlaw the practice.
House Bill 232, with 11 Republican co-sponsors, would create the “Anti-Sanctuary Act,” requiring all state and local government entities to comply with federal immigration detainer requests.
The bill also prohibits any local or state policies that “restrict or discourage the enforcement of federal immigration law.”
Shari Rendall, the state and local engagement director with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), traveled from Washington, D.C., to New Hampshire last week to testify in support of HB 232, sitting alongside chief sponsor state Rep. Jeanine Notter, R-Merrimack.
FAIR, which describes itself as an organization seeking to reduce both legal and illegal immigration, provided a list of sanctuary cities, counties and states, including several locations in New Hampshire.
“This is a clear violation of federal law,” Rendall said of the communities on the list. “They don’t call themselves sanctuary cities, but their practices define them as such.”
In addition to Cheshire County, the list includes Deerfield, Dublin, Harrisville, Lyme and Manchester.
In identifying Cheshire Country, the organization cites a March 2017 policy document from the sheriff’s office that states officers are not to ask about immigration status, and are not to comply with ICE detainer requests or assist in ICE investigations without a judicial warrant, the only exception being “an active criminal investigation that relates to public safety.”
The Deerfield Select Board approved an immigration policy for that town’s police department in September 2017 which states, among other things, “no stopping, holding or interrogating solely to determine immigration status” and “no attempting to enforce federal immigration laws.”
Deerfield officers are allowed to inquire about immigration status if it’s relevant to an investigation, if identity has not been satisfactorily proven, or if there is reasonable suspicion a person should have immigration credentials. The policy then goes on to say “nationality, name or ability to speak English do not constitute reasonable suspicion.”
The Deerfield policy also lays out the circumstances under which ICE can be notified, such as a felony arrest or a misdemeanor charge involving violence or a threat to public safety.
Harrisville passed a policy at town meeting in March 2017 instructing police that there be no immigration status inquiries “of anyone stopped or arrested for minor infractions,” and no sharing of immigration information with ICE, except for felonies or allegations of violent criminal activity.
Dublin and Lyme took similar action on warrants at their 2017 town meetings.
In placing Manchester on the list, FAIR cites a Sept. 12, 2017, article in the New Hampshire Union Leader regarding a New Hampshire State Police effort to draft a policy governing how troopers should address the immigration status of people they come across during traffic stops and other instances.
“Manchester prohibits its officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status,” the Union Leader reported at the time.
“They come in all shapes and sizes,” Rendall said. “Some are written as local laws, some as welcoming resolutions, some as law enforcement policies. The uniting factor is that they place a greater emphasis on the welfare of illegal aliens than the welfare of citizens and legal residents of the community.”
“New Hampshire is at a crossroads,” she said. “You want to ensure safe communities, then HB 232 is needed to clarify public policy regarding sanctuary cities and cooperation with immigration authorities.”
Gilles Bissonnette, ACLU-NH legal director, says such a law would violate constitutional guarantees of equal protection and prohibitions on arrest without probable cause, exposing municipalities to costly lawsuits.
The ACLU-NH has three lawsuits pending as part of its Immigration Rights Project, including one against the town of Northwood for detaining a North Carolina man in the country under the DACA program.
The organization also sued Exeter police, claiming they illegally arrested a Jordanian immigrant in August; and ICE after it held a Somali refugee for nine months without a hearing in Strafford County Jail.
“HB 232 ignores recent case law that has made clear that ICE detainers are mere requests, not commands,” says Bissonnette.
“Since ICE detainers are not based on probable cause, state and local law enforcement agencies violate the Fourth Amendment when they hold a person on an immigration detainer alone. This liability can be very costly for local jurisdictions already strapped for resources.”
The ACLU argues that the bill also “threatens local control, fosters racial profiling, damages public safety and undermines community trust in law enforcement.”
Lack of evidence
Rendall says there’s no evidence to support those assertions.
“Some may claim that illegal aliens won’t come forward to cooperate with police, but there is zero proof,” she said. “Police are not inclined to bite the hand that feeds them. When they need information, it’s not their first step to ask for immigration status.”
The bill could come to the floor of the House, where Democrats hold a 233-167 majority, as early as Jan. 31.
The last bill taking aim at sanctuary cities, HB 1621 in 2016, would have prohibited the state from distributing any federal money to a municipality that adopted an ordinance stating it will not cooperate with federal law enforcement on immigration enforcement.
That bill died 247-47 in a Republican-dominated House.