A demand for reform: Amid angry protests, anti-illegal forces state their case for changes in laws
By Sara Withee
Daily News Staff
January 22, 2006
WELLESLEY -- Strong emotions churned yesterday as the Massachusetts Coalition for Immigration Reform celebrated the state Legislature’s defeat of instate college tuition for illegal immigrants and a New Hampshire police chief’s work to protect his small town.
State Rep. Marie Parente, D-Milford, a vocal critic of the defeated tuition bill, told the group the problem is illegal immigrants know they can get free education and medical care here, at the expense of law-abiding residents.
"They’re calling their cousins, their aunts and uncles and saying, ’If you need a heart operation, all you have to do is walk across the border,’" Parente said.
Parente and W. Garrett Chamberlain, the New Ipswich, N.H., police chief, were the keynote speakers at the coalition’s quarterly meeting at the Wellesley Free Library.
The meeting got off to a bumpy start as protesters from various groups circled the library’s entrances, then carried signs inside. They interrupted the meeting less than 30 minutes later by standing up and leaving as they chanted.
Chamberlain, who made headlines last year when he unsuccessfully charged a Mexican immigrant with criminal trespassing, said the protest was not unique to the subject, but goes to the heart of the issue.
"One of the things that our Constitution provides is the right to free speech," Chamberlain said. "But that only applies to those that are in this country legally. Someone who comes to this country illegally is not entitled to the protection of our Constitution."
Chamberlain said his frustration with the lax enforcement of immigration laws began in July 2004, two weeks before the Democratic National Convention came to Boston.
He said he and another officer stopped a van for a traffic stop. They found a male driver in the front seat with eight men hidden under a blanket in the back, all of them illegal Spanish-speaking immigrants who had paid to be smuggled into the country. The immigrants said they were being paid $18 each a day at a painting job in Marlborough, N.H.
When immigration officials told him to release the men because they were not going to take action, Chamberlain said he took their photos and sent them to all the major media markets. Appearances on national news shows followed.
"I never thought it would get that kind of attention," he said.
He was pulled back into the debate in October 2004. While attending a law enforcement conference in Washington D.C., he called his police station and learned 10 illegal aliens had been found crammed in a house in his town.
This time, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement responded immediately, he said.
"Don’t let anybody fool you," he said. "They’re not going to do anything unless they’re forced to."
The win lasted until May 2005, when one of his officers stopped an illegal Mexican immigrant and Chamberlain charged him with criminal trespassing. New Hampshire’s law for the crime is broader than Massachusetts and other states, saying a person is guilty if they enter another person’s property and is "not licensed or privileged to do so."
Chamberlain said the decision drew worldwide media attention and many protesters to his police station, but that about 90 percent of the feedback he received was positive. The Hudson, N.H., police chief also followed suit with charges against illegal immigrants in his town.
But ultimately, the charge was dismissed in Jaffrey District Court for interfering with an area controlled by Congress. Still, Chamberlain said he has seen gains by sending a message to employers and clearing two houses overcrowded with illegal immigrants in his town of 4,200 residents.
He said movement continues. A bill proposing a change to the criminal trespassing law has been filed with the state Legislature, he said, though he said he believes it will also be blocked for constitutional reasons. He sees more hope in a proposal for the state to form an illegal labor task force.
"When you come into the United States, whether it’s under the cover of darkness or a coyote, you are not a person," he said. "You essentially don’t exist. And that’s one of the most dangerous things the United States can face."
Parente agreed and said Milford has seen the health hazards posed by illegal immigrants, who do not need to have vaccinations or provide medical documentation like those seeking immigration legally. The town had 11 reported cases of tuberculosis in 2005, Parente said.
"They don’t have to shoot us," she said. "All they have to do is stand next to us."
Protesters said the comments were unfair.
"My people have faced this in many countries across the world and our consciences call on us to oppose it," said Matt Borus, a staff member for Tekiah, a Boston-based Jewish organization. "Vigilantism is not am American law."