Editorial: Sununu squanders money at the border

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announces details of a new Northern Border Alliance Task Force, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023, in Concord, N.H. The task force will use $1.4 million to increase patrols of the Canadian border. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer)

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announces details of a new Northern Border Alliance Task Force, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023, in Concord, N.H. The task force will use $1.4 million to increase patrols of the Canadian border. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer) Holly Ramer

Published: 02-16-2024 6:21 PM

Modified: 02-19-2024 8:47 AM

Thanks to the ACLU of New Hampshire, a rough estimate can now be made of how much it will cost the state’s taxpayers to secure the Northern Border from the purported threat of undocumented immigrants crossing over from Canada. By our calculations, the price is about $55,000 per person detained.

Last year, Gov. Chris Sununu and Republicans in the Legislature allocated $1.4 million to meet what they characterized as a law enforcement “crisis,” citing a spike in Border Patrol encounters with migrants along the 295-mile Swanton Sector of the Canadian border that New Hampshire shares with Vermont and New York.

The money created the Northern Border Alliance, adding 10,000 patrol hours at the border over 18 months; allowing local and state police to patrol within 25 miles of the border; and providing unspecified new equipment for law enforcement personnel. This despite the fact that under the U.S. Constitution, the federal government has sole authority over immigration.

The ACLU noted that New Hampshire’s section of the border is only 58 miles long and asked for the data that supported this massive increase in law enforcement presence. When the governor’s office and the New Hampshire Department of Safety were unable to provide it, the Civil Liberties Union went to court and eventually pried New Hampshire-specific information out of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. The decidedly unalarming answer was that in the 15-month period from October 2022 through December 2023, a total of 21 people had been detained at the New Hampshire border.

Caught red-handed, Sununu dissembled mightily. “Securing our Northern Border is widely supported by citizens across New Hampshire,” he said in a written statement, “and cherry-picked data from the ACLU will never impact New Hampshire’s obligation to protect our citizens.” This statement was presumably issued in written form because the governor was unable to deliver it in-person with a straight face. Results of recent polling indicate that 61% of Granite Staters said they were “not at all concerned” or “not very concerned” about security at the state’s Northern Border.

Attorney General John Formella, who apparently conceives it as his duty to carry water for partisan Republican priorities, tried to help but couldn’t do much better. He claimed that the data was misleading because it didn’t include what the Border Patrol calls “known ‘got aways,’ unknown ‘got aways’ or sensor activations.”

This inevitably reminded us of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s response to a question in 2002 about the lack of evidence that Saddam Hussein had tried to supply terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know we know. We also know that there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Rumsfeld also said that “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” True, but until Sununu and Formella produce some more persuasive evidence, we conclude that the only crisis at New Hampshire’s Northern Border is one manufactured for an election year by cynical politicians. It mirrors what went down in Washington recently when Republicans in Congress refused to take yes for an answer on border security reform, scuttling a bill that contained most of what they wanted as well as providing aid to Ukraine and Israel. In this, they were doing the bidding of Donald Trump, who claims he is the only one who can control the borders. More craven political cowardice is hard to conceive, but no doubt will be displayed in the months to come.

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We also note that Sununu is now upping the ante, proposing to squander another $850,000 in taxpayer money to send New Hampshire National Guard troops to the Texas border.

All this money could be much better spent addressing actual problems in the North Country, which doesn’t normally get much love or money from state government. We’re pretty sure that battling drug addiction, mental illness, social isolation and lack of broadband service would be more welcome than chasing the tale of a border threat.