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Posted: 5/24/2005 5:56:16 AM EST
And the Feds still refuse to perform their duties.

"Faceoff over civil rights and immigration legalities
Union Leader Correspondents
Merchants Automotive Group

Despite efforts yesterday of a group of protesters — armed with a letter signed by 200 sympathizers — New Ipswich Police Chief W. Garrett Chamberlain said he would not budge on his stance against allowing illegal immigrants in town.

"I will not subscribe to the open-borders philosophy," Chamberlain told a crowd of about 30 members of the New Hampshire Immigrant Rights Task Force yesterday.

The group rallied first at the New Ipswich police station to protest Chamberlain's use of the state's criminal trespassing law to bring some attention to the federal government's failure to take custody of illegal immigrants his department has arrested.

"If you're going to come here, then come here legally. I'll welcome you with open arms," Chamberlain said.

The protesters, made up of various human rights and labor organizations from around New Hampshire, also delivered a letter of protest to Hudson Police Chief Richard Gendron.

The letter, read to Chamberlain by Rep. Hector M. Velez, D-Manchester, chastised officials for "unjust unconstitutional denials of human rights."

"Everyone in the United States of America, regardless of immigration status, is entitled to equal protection under our nation's laws," Velez said.

The group also accused police departments of setting the stage for racial profiling through their actions.

"Those who are most likely to come under police scrutiny under such policies would be people whose complexion is dark, who speak languages other than English, and who were born in other countries, regardless of immigration status," Velez read.

Just before protesters arrived in Hudson, Gendron was being hailed by a group of legislators who presented him with a plaque. The recently formed New Hampshire House of Representatives Immigration Caucus was led by Rep. David Buhlman, R-Hudson.

Bulhman said they came to formally recognize Gendron's "courage to stand up and apply these laws to apprehend those who are in the United States illegally, and who are, therefore, breaking our laws."

The Immigration Caucus, which was formed in February by about 20 House members, plans to introduce a package of legislation in September, including a resolution calling upon the U.S. Congress "to get the (illegal immigration) situation under control," Buhlman said.

Legislation will also be introduced to codify the use of the state's criminal trespass law to charge illegal immigrants — as New Ipswich and Hudson police have done — and to make it a state crime to knowingly hire illegal immigrants, he said.

It remains unclear if the current criminal trespass charges will be upheld by the courts.

Gendron accepted the plaque, saying, "There is a process in place to come into this country, and everyone needs to follow it . . . I think it took 9/11 to wake us up, and I think, unfortunately, we've fallen back asleep."

New Hampshire AFL-CIO president Mark MacKenzie, who attended the protest, said illegal immigrants are part of the economy "and that's the reality."

Charging illegal immigrants with criminal trespassing "is an embarrassment for New Hampshire," he said. "I think it paints us a right-wing, reactionary state."

Lily Mesa of Manchester said this practice will scare immigrants from calling police if they need help, causing a public safety issue.

Protesters held signs reading: "You can't trespass on public property," and "No Human Being Is Illegal."

Chamberlain reiterated his position.

"I knew this situation would be misconstrued," Chamberlain said. "This issue is legal versus illegal, it's not a matter of nationality. I've never detained anyone who was here legally, ever. I apply the law evenly across the board to everybody."

Chamberlain has gained national attention for charging Jorge Mora Ramirez, 21, with criminal trespassing. After Ramirez's car broke down in New Ipswich in mid-April, police determined he was in the U.S. illegally and charged him with criminal trespass. He is scheduled for trial on July 12.

Calling Chamberlain's use of the criminal trespass law "pretty creative," Gendron decided to charge illegal immigrants found in Hudson in the same fashion.

Less than a month after Chamberlain charged Ramirez, two officers stopped a vehicle on May 10 on Derry Road in Hudson because one of the vehicle's headlights did not work. After determining the driver and the passenger were illegal immigrants, police charged Sergio Ruiz-Robles, 21, and Margarito Jaramillio Escobar, 23, with criminal trespassing. Both men live in Nashua. Both admitted to entering the U.S. illegally, Gendron has said.

Among those turning out to support Gendron was Tom Stiling of Westford, Mass.

"We're protesting the protesters. We really believe that the government should be enforcing the borders."

"We can't afford to pay for all these people," said Neil Foley of Concord. "I'm just an average 'Joe Citizen,' and this stuff is really irking me."

Theo Amani of the NH Immigrants Rights Task Force stressed that while the group has no quarrel with police, they believe Chamberlain over-stepped his authority by applying the criminal trespass law to Ramirez — who admitted to police that he was an illegal alien from Mexico.

"We tell immigrants that when something is wrong, the first place to go is the police station," he said. "The police are there to protect them. It's very important to keep in the community the feeling that the police are not the enemy. But this case is an abuse of power. The chief is there to enforce the law, not create the law."

Chamberlain said the response he's had has been overwhelmingly positive.

"I'd say about 700 positive e-mails and loads of letters," he said. "One that sticks out is from a World War II veteran who wrote me that, up until he saw this story, he thought that his service had been for nothing."


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