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NH Senate advances plan tying Northern Border enforcement to land use law

This photo was taken along U.S. Route 3 in New Hampshire in August 2010.
Doug Kerr
Flickr Creative Commons - Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
This photo was taken along U.S. Route 3 in New Hampshire in August 2010.

Republicans in the New Hampshire Senate passed a plan to allow local police to arrest suspected undocumented migrants for trespassing on privately-owned recreational land, including along the Canadian border.

The bill passed along party lines, with all Senate Democrats opposed, and now heads to the New Hampshire House. It comes as border officials in New York and Vermont are reporting a sharp rise in arrests of migrants entering from Canada, though recent data shows only a small number of encounters have taken place in New Hampshire.

Under the proposal, private landowners who grant the public access to their land through New Hampshire’s current use program would be permitted to post “No Trespassing” signs with exceptions for recreational use without jeopardizing their tax break.

“We need to do something to protect our borders,” Sen. Kevin Avard, a Republican from Nashua, said Thursday. “This is a small attempt.”

The measure was requested by a small group of Pittsburg residents who say they have seen migrants cross their property. If passed, the bill would allow local police to enforce the state’s trespassing law, rather than waiting for Border Patrol agents to respond.

Some immigrant rights activists and Democrats contend the measure will lead to racial profiling.

“If this bill passes, how do we distinguish between a migrant carrying a backpack and wearing boots, from any other hiker who is permitted to walk on the land?” Sen. Becky Whitley asked her colleagues during debate on the bill Thursday.

Senate President Jeb Bradley, the bill’s sponsor, previously told NHPR he believes the proposal is constitutional. He also said the bill has the backing of the Attorney General’s office.

Border officials have released data showing a record number of encounters with migrants along the New York and Vermont international borders this winter. New Hampshire’s approximately 58-mile border with Canada is heavily forested and has relatively few roads in proximity to the boundary on either side. Recent data obtained by the ACLU of New Hampshire through a lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection showed just 21 suspected migrants were detained by federal agents in the state in the 15-month period between October 2022 and December 2023.

Still, Republicans argued Thursday the trespassing bill was needed to close what they argued is a gap in federal enforcement.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University. He can be reached at tbookman@nhpr.org.