City Council sends ‘Welcoming Lebanon’ ordinance to voters

  • Yolanda Huerta speaks to the Lebanon City Council in support of an ordinance that would prohibit Lebanon police from inquiring about a person’s immigration status or sharing immigration-related information with federal authorities in West Lebanon, N.H., Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kathleen Beckett, of Lebanon, speaks with United Valley Interfaith Project member Ben Mortell, of Unity, before introducing the Welcoming Lebanon Ordinance to the Lebanon, N.H., City Council in West Lebanon, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The ordinance aims to protect undocumented immigrants living in the Upper Valley by prohibiting Lebanon police from inquiring about a person’s immigration status or sharing immigration-related information with federal authorities. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lebanon City Councilor Clifton Below listens to a speaker supporting a proposed ordinance that would prohibit Lebanon police from inquiring about a person’s immigration status or sharing immigration-related information with federal authorities during the council meeting in West Lebanon, N.H., Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kathy Beckett, of Lebanon, who led the petition effort to bring the Welcoming Lebanon Ordinance before the City Council, talks with retired attorney Ben Mortell, of Unity, who advised her during the meeting in West Lebanon, N.H., Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2020. Beckett took to the microphone for a third time at the close of the meeting to successfully ask the Council to indicate their support of the measure in their final vote which sent the ordinance to voters for their approval on the March ballot. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kesaya Noda speaks to the Lebanon, N.H., City Council during public comment on the Welcoming Lebanon Ordinance, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. Noda, whose grandparents and extended family were detained in internment camps during WWII, said it’s hypocritical to express support for legal immigration when U.S. policies make it more difficult for people to come here legally. The Upper Valley’s farming economy is dependent on undocumented immigrants, she added. “We want our neighbors and farmer friends to have workers but we do not want to face that they cannot find white workers.”(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • As a line forms at the microphone for comment on the Welcoming Lebanon Ordinance, Lebanon Police Officers Ryan Brewster, left, and Emily Winslow, wait at the back of the room in West Lebanon, N.H., Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The officers attended in addition to Deputy Chief Phil Roberts and Chief Richard Mello, anticipating the possibility of larger crowds like those seen at last year's debates on a similar issue in Hartford, Vt. Kate Semple Barta, an immigration attorney for WISE, is at left. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Speakers wait at the microphone to speak about the Welcoming Lebanon Ordinance as Lebanon, N.H., City Councilors pause the debate to complete other business Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/22/2020 10:39:57 PM

LEBANON — City voters will decide the fate of a proposed “Welcoming Lebanon Ordinance” that seeks to bar Lebanon police from working alongside or sharing immigration-related information with federal immigration authorities.

The City Council voted, 8-1, on Wednesday night to include the ordinance on Lebanon’s March ballot without changes. Bruce Bronner, who cast the sole vote in opposition, said he supports voters deciding the matter but disagrees with the council endorsing the ordinance’s goals in its motion.

The decision came at the end of a roughly three-hour discussion that saw city residents, religious leaders and lawmakers debate the merits of the proposed ordinance, which would prohibit police from aiding immigration enforcement efforts.

“I have never seen as much passion on an issue that I have seen on this one,” Lebanon Mayor Tim McNamara told about 60 people who attended the City Council meeting at the former Seminary Hill School in West Lebanon. “I am really humbled by the civility that I have seen here tonight.”

If approved by a simple majority of the voters, the ordinance would forbid police from detaining people for immigration law violations and allowing federal immigration officials to interview those already in Lebanon police custody. Petitioners also included a clause stating municipal employees aware of federal immigration activities would be required to warn residents.

The measure comes as Hartford voters will vote on a similar ordinance at Town Meeting, and Norwich voters have also petitioned for one.

Supporters needed 611 signatures, or 10% of the votes cast in Lebanon during the 2018 gubernatorial election, to put the ordinance to the City Council.

Lebanon City Clerk Sandi Allard certified 680 names, saying there were problems with the rest. Those include names not being on the voter checklist, discrepancies in addresses and issues reading handwriting.

Kathy Beckett, who led the petition drive that brought forward the ordinance, said it isn’t intended to interfere with criminal investigations or voting but promote fairness in the city’s policing policies.

“The intent of this provision is to insure unbiased or fair and impartial policing,” she said.

Others said the proposal is needed because Lebanon’s immigrant community is at times afraid that interactions with police will end in deportation or other immigration enforcement actions. 

“It is already incredibly difficult for people to ask for help,” said Angy Zhang, program director for Listen Community Services. 

Zhang said the nonprofit has encountered individuals who are afraid to work with social services. The ordinance, she added, would ensure there would be no repercussions for doing so.

Kate Semple Barta, an immigration attorney at WISE, said she’s experienced similar apprehension from clients who have experienced domestic violence. 

“When law enforcement is seen as collaborating with (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), local law enforcement is seen as unsafe,” she said. 

But some worried the proposal would tie the hands of police and give the impression that Lebanon’s officers aren’t already abiding by immigration-friendly policies. 

Lebanon Police Chief Richard Mello has said city police don’t “conduct immigration investigations nor do we assist Border Patrol, or any other federal agency, with investigating an individual’s immigration status.”

“Lebanon officers are trained not to inquire about an individual’s immigration status unless it is germane to an investigation involving a violation of New Hampshire state statutes/laws,” he told the Valley News after Border Patrol conducted an immigration checkpoint on Interstate 89 in September.

“I support immigration but I don’t support illegal immigration and what we’re doing is trying to develop a sanctuary city,” said Al Patterson, a Lebanon resident and retired Hanover police officer. 

Patterson expressed concern that the ordinance would violate federal law requiring municipal police to provide information to federal immigration officials. 

“We’re a country of laws and you’re asking Lebanon residents here to overlook a law,” he said. 

Brian Ware, a West Lebanon resident, echoed those sentiments. He worried undocumented immigrants could include people engaged in “illegal enterprises.”

“I started to have real difficulties with the idea that we’re starting to have this invisible section of society,” he said. “How are police officers giving us effective enforcement?”

legal review commissioned by the city found “no fundamental conceptual legal flaw” in much of the proposed ordinance.

The proposal largely does “not involve the city embarking on any new enterprise or function,” but would instead prohibit employees from certain actions, Lebanon attorney Bernie Waugh wrote in a Jan. 13 memo to the City Council.

Meanwhile, federal law that appears to prohibit measures in the “Welcoming Lebanon Ordinance” hasn’t been successful in court, he added.

Waugh, however, took action with the ordinance’s mandate that the city inform residents when immigration officials are present.

He called the section “vague” and questioned exactly how officials should alert people. It also could be viewed as obstructing federal authorities, Waugh added.

Mello said before Wednesday’s meeting that the ordinance could “greatly impact” future attempts to receive federal grants, which the city has relied on to fund two entry-level police officers.

In 2018, Lebanon signed onto a three-year Community-Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, grant that requires police to share “information regarding citizenship or immigration status” with federal authorities.

In return, the grant covered 75% of the officers’ salaries, or about $192,000, through the city’s 2020 fiscal year. Mello said the city must also continue to employ the officers for another 12 months after funding ends.

The COPS grant doesn’t force police to participate in immigration investigations, roundups or arrests, Mello said in an interview. Instead, he said, it calls on Lebanon police to share information such as a person’s address or criminal records, when contacted by federal agencies.

“I know that if this passes, I have an affirmative responsibility to report us to the Department of Justice,” Mello said, adding he’s unsure how the federal government will respond.

In his legal opinion, Waugh said only Congress can “attach such ‘strings’ to grants,” although some courts have found that the federal government can rank applicants for funding based on compliance to policies.

City councilors on Wednesday shared Waugh’s concerns that some parts of the ordinance might conflict with law. All nine said they support the sentiment behind the ordinance, which they said requires additional work.

“I’m not ready to pass this exactly as is,” Assistant Mayor Clifton Below said following a tearful statement in support of the proposal’s goals.

“I do believe there is a way we can move this forward,” Councilor Karen Liot Hill said later in the meeting, adding she would like to work with petitioners on future amendments.

In expressing support, each councilor drew on personal experiences either with immigration or diversity.

Liot Hill said her support comes as the mother of a biracial daughter, while Councilor Erling Heistad talked about his son, who was adopted and left the city after feeling unwelcome.

“We’ve enjoyed a life here that is for most of us supportive,” Heistad said. “I hope that we can have a system that does that for everybody.”

Lebanon’s municipal election is scheduled for Tuesday, March 10. If approved, the ordinance would take effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

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




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