NH bill would subvert Lebanon, Hanover immigration policing policies

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/11/2021 11:44:36 PM
Modified: 3/11/2021 11:44:34 PM

LEBANON — Municipal officials say a bill that would require New Hampshire police to detain suspected undocumented immigrants at the behest of federal authorities threatens to gut a key piece of policing reform adopted in two Upper Valley communities last year.

HB 266, which supporters call the “Anti-Sanctuary Act,” would require local and state police to comply with federal immigration detainers. It also would forbid cities and towns from “adopting policies that prohibit, restrict, or discourage the enforcement of federal immigration law.”

State Rep. John Potucek, R-Derry, told the House Municipal and County Government Committee during a Monday hearing that the legislation targets “sanctuary cities” that seek to shield what he called “illegal immigrants” from deportation or prosecution.

“Let me be clear, this is not a bill about immigration. This bill is about sanctuary cities,” said Potucek, the measure’s prime sponsor. The retired engineer and math teacher argued that undocumented immigrants threaten public safety and cost New Hampshire taxpayers millions of dollars while declining to cite sources supporting those assertions.

The committee approved the bill, which is almost identical to a 2019 proposal, on a 10-9 party-line vote and it appears likely to clear the Republican-controlled House.

Some in the Upper Valley say the measure is a clear challenge to the ordinances adopted in Lebanon and Hanover last year.

Both communities approved policies that prohibit police from asking people about their immigration status, enforcing federal immigration law, or cooperating with detainers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Lebanon, and Hartford in Vermont, called their changes “welcoming ordinances;” Hanover’s ordinance was called a Fair and Impartial Policing Ordinance, and Norwich also made a similar change in policing policy).

Also called immigration holds, detainers ask law enforcement and jail officials to keep a person in custody for up to 48 hours past their release date so that ICE can decide whether to press charges or begin removal proceedings.

City Councilor Karen Liot Hill, who chaired the group that drafted Lebanon’s ordinance, said Wednesday that the House bill could undo the efforts of activists, voters and her fellow councilors who worked for more than a year on the policy changes.

She also pointed out that city residents voted, 1,218-1015, to adopt the welcoming ordinance during Lebanon’s municipal election last March.

“The overarching theme right now in Concord is one of incredibly bad legislation that is being pushed by a Republican majority that is not being at all thoughtful about its impact on communities around the state,” said Liot Hill, a longtime Democrat.

Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin also said the bill would affect her community’s Fair and Impartial Policing ordinance. However, she views the measure as more of a political statement than serious legislation that would affect the lives of Upper Valley residents.

Detainer requests are much more likely to be sent to jails, which hold people for much longer than local police, she said, adding that the recent change in presidential administrations makes her hopeful that immigration enforcement will somewhat ease.

“I would not, as a manager, lose a whole lot of sleep over this legislation if this passes into law,” Griffin said.

Both Liot Hill and Griffin predicted that, if the bill were to pass, it also would face a legal challenge.

Questions about the legality of detainers, what liabilities municipalities could face by honoring them and concerns about funding enforcement efforts were all posed to Potucek, who largely declined to answer questions from other legislators during Monday’s hearing.

“I’m not a lawyer. I’m not versed in immigration law,” he said before referring questions to his “legal adviser,” Shari Rendall of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. FAIR has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center because its founder espoused maintaining a “European-American majority” and the group has tried to “severely limit immigration,” according to the SPLC.

When asked by lawmakers about the SPLC designation, Rendall waved it off by saying the nonprofit labels many of its political opponents as hate groups.

The bill, she said, would “prohibit jurisdictions from employing dangerous policies that provide a safe haven or sanctuary in which illegal aliens can work and live without fear of apprehension by federal immigration authorities.”

That assertion was disputed at the hearing by Asma Elhuni, a Lebanon resident and movement politics director for Rights and Democracy New Hampshire. She said immigrants are neighbors, family members, friends and laborers that people should value.

“We want to benefit from their labor but we don’t want to offer them the basic human rights of treating them like human beings,” Elhuni said while criticizing the bill and people’s treatment of immigrants.

Representatives from Catholic Charities, the American Friends Service Committee and New Hampshire Municipal Association also spoke in opposition to the legislation Monday. The bill hasn’t yet been scheduled for a vote before the House.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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