CONCORD, N.H. – Governor Chris Sununu has proposed spending $1.4 million to address an increase in illegal border crossings from Canada, even though it is unclear how many of those crossings have occurred along New Hampshire’s northern border.
The ACLU has criticized the governor’s proposal to spend state money to have local, county, and state police patrol the border without data proving border activity has increased in New Hampshire. The civil rights group and advocates for immigrant rights say the policy would undermine community safety by discouraging immigrants from contacting the police if they witness a crime or are the victim of a crime.
“We have very serious concerns with this approach,” said Frank Knaack, policy director for ACLU NH. “They’ve been unable to provide any actual evidence to back up the rhetoric which is pushing these very harmful policies.”
When ACLU NH filed a Right to Know request for data proving that New Hampshire’s border has been busier than usual, the governor’s office replied that it had no responsive records. The Department of Safety had no records to share either.
A spokesperson for the governor told the Globe the claim is based on data published by Customs and Border Patrol on Feb. 13, reporting “an approximate 846% increase in encounters and apprehensions compared to the same period of FY22.”
But that data includes 295 miles of border called the Swanson Sector, stretching from New Hampshire to New York — and just 58 miles of it is in New Hampshire. Knaack also noted that data isn’t limited to people apprehended while crossing the border, and could include people who live in the region and are stopped far beyond the border.
Sununu called the situation at the border “a humanitarian crisis” and said the state must address it. “To take no action to stop these illegal crossings is to perpetuate a humanitarian crisis,” he said in a written statement. “Whether it’s to prevent human trafficking or the flow of illegal drugs, protecting America’s borders and enforcing the laws of our nation should and must be the priority of the Biden Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.”
He wrote to the Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas on March 13 to see if New Hampshire law enforcement officers can be more involved in securing the northern border. Sununu said he wanted New Hampshire law enforcement officers be trained to work alongside federal border agents through a Section 287 agreement.
New Hampshire Department of Safety Commissioner Robert Quinn made the same request while testifying before Congress earlier this week.
“To be clear, although New Hampshire has seen an increase in crossings, we have not yet seen the large increase that Vermont is presently experiencing,” he said in his testimony. Quinn also appeared on Fox News on March 27 and told viewers the state had seen a “slight increase” in illegal crossings.
“It’s unclear to us how they’re coming to those conclusions and providing that statement to Congress when they don’t have any responsive documents to requests on that specific issue,” said Knaack. “They’re manufacturing these crises without actually having any data to support the rhetoric.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Safety said the information came from a supervisor of the United States Border Patrol in the Swanton Sector. It was provided to the New Hampshire Information and Analysis Center and indicated a slight increase in the number of illegal crossings into the United States from Canada along New Hampshire’s border, the spokesperson said.
Having state and local police patrol New Hampshire’s northern border could negatively impact businesses and tourism in the state, warned Sebastian Fuentes, who works at the nonprofit Rights and Democracy and advocates for immigrant rights.
Fuentes, who came to New Hampshire from Lima, Peru, when he was 19 and worked at the Mount Washington Resort, now lives in Thornton. He said that giving local and state police the same power as border patrol agents could intimidate international visitors, and could deter those who cross the border for work.
“There’s no crisis at the border,” he said. “It’s scary to think that northern New Hampshire — a really nice, welcoming, beautiful landscape — is going to be treated like the southern border in Texas or New Mexico.”
He said the $1.4 million the governor has proposed spending on border security would be better spent on child care or education.
But others in the North Country view the governor’s program favorably. “We’re the size of San Antonio or Austin, Texas, and do not have the resources to govern the area properly,” said Douglas Ahlstrin, a selectman in Pittsburg, near the state’s border with Canada. “Anything that can help with law enforcement up here is greatly appreciated.”
Crime rates in Pittsburg are low, according to data from the state Department of Safety, requested by ACLU NH. There were 13 total offenses in Pittsburg in 2021 and seven in 2020.
The New Hampshire House will vote on the governor’s $1.4 million border proposal, which is part of the state budget, when it is in session next week.