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State House Republicans pursue focus on illegal immigration even as data shows few border crossings

This Thursday around 40 activists and people from the community went to show they are against anti-immigration laws.
Gabriela Lozada
/
NHPR
Around 40 activists and people from the state's immigrant community went to the State House to oppose newly proposed immigration bills, Feb. 1, 2024.

Immigration continues to be a focus for Republican state senators who joined efforts this week behind a bill to ban so-called sanctuary cities in New Hampshire. The legislation comes amid a vigorous public debate over the risk facing the state from illegal crossings at New Hampshire northern border, including new data released by the ACLU this week showing the number of illegal crossings along the state's Canadian border are relatively low.

Similar legislation barring so-called sanctuary cities in the state was introduced in 2022 and did not pass.

In a press conference Thursday, Senate President Jeb Bradley said terrorists, human traffickers, and drug dealers are entering the state through the Canadian border.

“The problems are here in every town,” he said when asked for evidence for those claims.

Bradley couldn't say if any of the 21 immigrants who have crossed the New Hampshire-Canada border between 2022 and 2023 are on a watchlist for those crimes, but he said he emphatically supports a bill to beef up local law enforcement's role in policing immigration.

That legislation aims to require local police departments to cooperate with federal immigration officials, providing undocumented immigrants’ information and making apprehensions in their communities. It would also prohibit any policy or practice that local governments might take to be more welcoming to undocumented immigrants.

The city of Lebanon currently has an ordinancein place to preserve the quality of life for all people regardless of immigration status.

Sen. Gannon and Brazilian immigration activist Leudson Veloz talk during a break in the hearing. Veloz said he told Gannon that an anti-sanctuary city bill is not just bad for people who have to go to their workplaces fearing being detained any time, but for the state's economy too.
Gabriela Lozada
Sen. Gannon and Brazilian immigration activist Leudson Veloz talk during a break in the hearing. Veloz said he told Gannon that an anti-sanctuary city bill is not just bad for people who have to go to their workplaces fearing being detained any time, but for the state's economy too.

Police departments in Manchester, Hollis, Hudson, and Merrimack have supported so-called "sanctuary" policies in the past. Officers say those efforts help maintain good relationships with immigrant communities. Those departments declined to comment this week about the revived legislation.

Republican Sen. William Gannon, prime sponsor of the bill, said that illegal immigration is the number one concern of his constituents as he says many feel the federal government is not doing enough to control the border.

“Just like Texas is handling their problems, we are going to handle New Hampshire problems in New Hampshire,” he said.

Republican Sen. Sharon Carson said she aims to keep her community safe from “the number of illegal immigrants that have entered our country.”

None of the bill’s sponsors provided evidence of a massive number of illegal crossings in the state.

Around 40 activists and representatives of the state’s immigrant community showed up at the State House Thursday to testify against the bill. Wesley Souza is orginally from Brazil and said he lives lawfully in the country, but many of his friends and family do not. He is afraid this new law could get them deported, even if they haven’t committed a crime.

“We don't want to hurt the American people; we are here to help and support,” he said.

Wesley Souza was part of a delegation from Brazil who came to the House to testify against the bill. "We are here to say immigrants help the nation, and we are a force," he said.
Gabriela Lozada
Wesley Souza was part of a delegation from Brazil who came to the House to testify against the bill. "We are here to say immigrants help the nation, and we are a force," he said.

Eva Castillo, director of the New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, said the bill is not coming from the Republican senator’s constituents or the police: It comes from their “political ambitions,” she said.

“There are a few bills against immigration [at the State House this year], but this one is the worst,” she said.

Rev. Alison Palm of Nashua held a sign in the State House. She is worried Nashua, which has a “welcoming city” initiative when it comes to immigrants, could be affected by the bill. She hopes undocumented immigrants can live in a community without fear.

“There has been [racism] for a few years,” she said. “And I don’t want to live in a community where people live in fear.”

Also testifying was Shari Rendall, a representative of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Her presence at the hearing drew pushback from some committee members and led to a brief pause in the hearing

Randall said she was invited by one of the bill sponsors to testify but declined to disclose who.

"The Federation for American Immigration Reform is listed as a hate group but the bottom line is there is a policy difference and they have been loose with that term," said Randall to NHPR.
Gabriela Lozada
"The Federation for American Immigration Reform is listed as a hate group but the bottom line is there is a policy difference and they have been loose with that term," said Randall to NHPR.

Gabriela Lozada is a Report for America corps member. Her focus is on Latinx community with original reporting done in Spanish for ¿Qué hay de Nuevo NH?.