NEW IPSWICH - Charging illegal immigrants with trespassing is unjust and unconstitutional, critics said yesterday, protesting in two towns where the police have employed the unusual tactic.
"This is an embarrassment to the state of New Hampshire," said AFL-CIO president Mark MacKenzie, one of at least 30 protesters who gathered in front of the New Ipswich police office. The group, carrying signs saying "You Can't Trespass on Public Property," and "No Human is Illegal," also went to Hudson's police station.
Theo Amani of Manchester, who heads a group called Africa Initiative, said illegal immigrants should feel safe when they need or meet a police officer. Lily Mesa of Manchester, a member of the task force, said illegal immigrants shouldn't be made to feel like terrorists.
New Ipswich Police Chief Garrett Chamberlain said he is doing his job in making sure the community is safe and secure.
"The reason why Sept. 11 happened is because of our lax immigration policy,"he said.
Following a traffic stop in April, Chamberlain cited Jorge Mora Ramirez with criminal trespassing, a violation comparable to a traffic ticket. Immigration officials had refused to take him into custody.
Sergio Ruiz-Robles and Margarito Jaramillo Escobar were cited in Hudson this month. Ramirez has pleaded not guilty and faces trial in July; Ruiz-Robles and Escobar are scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Nashua District Court.
The statute says a person is guilty of criminal trespassing if, "knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or remains in any place."
The protests were organized by the New Hampshire Immigrant Rights Task Force. A group statement expressed concern that the citations "will lead inevitably to the profiling of motorists and pedestrians based on perception of immigration status. 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 their immigration status."
Chamberlain met with the group, saying that they misconstrued the situation.
"Please do not try to portray this as a race issue," he said. "It is not; it's legal versus illegal."
Chamberlain says the citation is his answer to the problem of perceived federal indifference to illegal immigrants. Last summer, the New Ipswich police detained nine illegal immigrants from Ecuador but let them go when immigration officials said they would not take them. In October, immigration officials did arrest a group of 11 illegal immigrants from Mexico.
Immigration officials say the criminal trespassing citation would not increase the chances that someone would be deported, especially if he had not committed a crime.
Police chiefs throughout New Hampshire, including Chief Richard Gendron in Hudson, had praised Chamberlain's use of the law. Chamberlain said yesterday he has received at least 700 positive e-mail messages from across the country and that police officers in other states have been researching criminal trespassing laws.
Groups also turned out in support of Chamberlain and Gendron. "I think he's doing a wonderful job," Bruce Miller of Franklin said of Chamberlain.
Someone tries to do the right thing and some group always tries to blur the line. To call him a racist is to close your eyes to the truth. Why do these groups always stifle debate by doing the calling thing? He busted a lawbreaker so he must be racist!