Sebastian Fuentes, political director for Rights & Democracy NH, speaks at a Wednesday press conference featuring civil and immigrants’ rights activists who oppose increased police enforcement at the northern border. (Courtesy ACLU of NH)
A coalition of New Hampshire civil and immigrants’ rights activists have penned a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security urging the continued freeze of Immigration and Customs Enforcement delegation agreements, the same federal program Gov. Chris Sununu wants to revive.
The letter comes less than a week after Sununu and Attorney General John Formella announced the Northern Border Alliance Task Force, an initiative that will add approximately 10,000 hours of additional patrols within 25 miles of the Canadian border over the next year and a half. It’s set to be funded by $1.4 million allocated by the state Legislature this past session, in response to increased illegal crossings in U.S. Border Patrol’s Swanton Sector, made up of New Hampshire, Vermont, and part of New York.
Sununu said the decision to pursue elevated state enforcement comes after failed attempts to garner support from the federal government, including a request to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas that he lift a nationwide hold on ICE delegation agreements, known as the 287(g) program. The program has allowed state and local law enforcement to perform specified immigration officer functions under the agency’s oversight.
After denial, Sununu followed up with the state’s congressional delegation in August requesting that it help New Hampshire secure an ICE delegation agreement.
This week, opponents of increased enforcement at New Hampshire’s 58-mile border with Canada challenged Sununu’s request, asking Mayorkas to instead continue the nationwide moratorium on ICE delegation agreements.
“Immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility and the 287(g) program harms community trust in police,” the letter said. “The program is inherently flawed and, moreover, Governor Sununu’s assertions of an increase in unauthorized crossings is unsupported by evidence.”
Those signing onto the letter included representatives from Rights and Democracy NH, American Friends Service Committee, NH Alliance of Immigrants and Refugees, Granite State Organizing Project, ACLU of New Hampshire, Granite State Interfaith Action Fund, and NH Immigrant Rights Network.
The letter starts by questioning Sununu’s statements that there is a “crisis” at New Hampshire’s northern border, stating, “There is no data to support such an assertion.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has said it maintains crossing data only for the Swanton Sector in its entirety, and not individual states. As of yet, state officials do not have any data specific to crossings in New Hampshire, and have said all related numbers come directly from the federal government. Customs and Border Protection denied the Bulletin’s request for New Hampshire numbers in April, saying it does not release state-level numbers.
Last week, Formella said the 295-mile Swanton Sector has seen more than 6,000 apprehensions over the last year, “a significant rise” and “more than the previous 11 years combined.”
Sununu and Formella also pointed to data showing an increase in crossing attempts at the country’s entire northern border, from Maine to Washington, by individuals on the terrorist watch list – approximately 430 individuals last fiscal year.
In their letter, the civil and immigrants’ rights advocates say they don’t feel that data is strong enough to show a crossing crisis in New Hampshire specifically. The letter points to just three publicly known arrests since June. They are:
- In July, a New York man was arrested in New Hampshire on charges he helped transport nine undocumented immigrants into the state in June, across the Canadian border.
- In August, ICE announced it had arrested, in Rye, a former Brazilian military officer who fled Brazil after being convicted of murdering 11 people, though the agency did not say how the man arrived in New Hampshire.
- In September, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Hampshire announced it had charged a Mexican man who was in the country illegally with smuggling four people across the border, through Vermont and then into New Hampshire.
When U.S. Attorney Jane Young announced action related to the June apprehension in Pittsburg, she said it was the first arrest on smuggling-related charges in at least the last 14 months.
Even if additional cases of unauthorized crossings in New Hampshire have occurred, the letter says, “the costs of enmeshing local law enforcement agencies in the business of federal civil immigration enforcement far outweigh the benefits.”
The advocates described how immigrants often fear law enforcement when they are concerned about deportation or separation from their families. Involving local and state law enforcement in immigration enforcement, they said, will result in crimes in immigrant communities going unreported and survivors staying silent.
The letter cites a study by the ACLU showing that ICE delegation agreements “undermine police and community trust, which makes communities less safe.” The report alleges that racial profiling, poor jail conditions, and other civil rights violations were widespread among the 142 state and local law enforcement agencies ICE described as participants in the 287(g) program as of April 2022.
Lastly, the letter raises questions about the participation of New Hampshire State Police in immigration enforcement, citing their use of pretextual stops that have been criticized by racial justice advocates for years.
In 2019, state police instituted a “fair and impartial policing policy,” which prohibits stops or detentions based solely on “race, ethnic background, age, gender, or sexual orientation, religion, economic status, cultural group, or any other prejudicial basis.”
In response to Wednesday’s letter, Sununu released the following statement: “From obstructing common sense bail reform fixes to protesting the state’s efforts to secure our northern border, groups like the ACLU simply do not care about keeping our communities safe. Why?”
In an email, Sununu’s office pointed to a September Facebook post from U.S. Border Patrol Swanton Sector showing individuals, including people with children and infants, traversing through wooded areas on foot.coalition-letter-opposition-287g
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