Closing door on illegal immigrants

August 10, 2005|By George W. Grayson

NEW HAMPSHIRE holds the first presidential primary every four years, and a candidate's showing there can make or break his or her bid for the White House. Now this small state may be at the forefront of a trend that will change national policy toward illegal immigrants.

Some large cities such as Los Angeles and New York grant "sanctuary" to illegal immigrants. This means local police do not turn over to the feds those who have committed minor crimes.

In contrast, W. Garrett Chamberlain, police chief of New Ipswich, N.H., has garnered widespread attention by arresting them even when politically correct jurisdictions turn a blind eye to their presence.

Specifically, he charges them with "criminal trespass." New Hampshire law states that "a person is guilty of criminal trespass if, knowing he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or remains in any place." Conviction carries a fine of up to $1,000.

In response to his action, the police chief has received an avalanche of positive communications from soldiers and law enforcement personnel around the world.

In fact, the popularity of the move has prompted Richard E. Gendron, the police chief in nearby Hudson, to follow Chief Chamberlain's example. He charged two illegal aliens from Mexico with trespassing after their van was stopped with a broken headlight.

Not everyone endorses these actions. "The Mexican government was understandably worried that this could become the charge du jour across the country," said Claire Ebel, executive director of the New Hampshire affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In addition, the Mexican Consulate has hired an attorney for JosM-i Mora Ramirez, 21, who was apprehended for trespassing in New Ipswich. Mexican officials fear that his conviction could set a national precedent.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Mexican-American who has an eye on succeeding President Bush in 2008, recently told journalists that legal action toward illegal immigrants "should be done by federal law enforcement. This should not be done by local police chiefs."

The objections of Mr. Richardson aside, why have Chief Chamberlain and Chief Gendron won more bouquets than brickbats for their crackdown?

First, there is the traditionalism of New Englanders, who look askance at outsiders. Even though New Hampshire remains 96 percent white, there has been an influx of Latinos in recent years - especially in the state's two largest cities, Manchester and Nashua.

Second, state and local officials throughout the country are frustrated by the lack of a consistent policy on illegal immigration. The new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement service - known as ICE - is a bureaucratic nightmare beset by political kibitzing. While ICE has beefed up patrols at the U.S.-Mexican border, it runs into a political firestorm every time it tries to enforce immigration laws in the workplace. In past years, members of Congress have forced federal authorities to halt raids on farms growing Vidalia onions in Georgia and on owners of meatpacking plants in Nebraska.

During the first two weeks of July, 47 inquiries from local law enforcement in New Hampshire were made, and ICE issued detainers - the order to hold the person so he can be picked up by federal agents - on only four people.

Third, New Englanders are extremely flinty and self-reliant. They have a difficult time understanding why a country with Mexico's cornucopia of oil, natural gas, gold, silver, beaches and museums cannot manage to generate employment at home for its citizens. Despite this wealth, President Vicente Fox has made good neither on his campaign promise to spur 7 percent economic growth nor to create 1 million jobs annually.

Mexico's Congress refuses to raise revenues for social needs, and the country collects in taxes only 12 percent of its gross domestic product - barely a third of the figure for Brazil.

In addition, Mexicans believe they have every right to cross the border. This sentiment was evident in the results of a Zogby survey of Mexicans taken in May 2001. The pollsters asked: "Do you agree or disagree that the territory of the U.S. Southwest rightfully belongs to Mexico?" Fifty-eight percent of the respondents agreed, 28 percent disagreed, and 14 percent said they were not sure.

Not only does the popular action in New Hampshire send a message to Washington lawmakers, it will also force presidential wannabes who enter the state's primary to take a stand on an issue that was largely ignored during the Kerry-Bush campaign.

George W. Grayson, who teaches government at the College of William and Mary, is writing a book on Mexico City Mayor AndrM-is Manuel Lopez Obrador.

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