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NH Politics

N.H. Republicans announce latest efforts to curb illegal immigration at the northern border

Lawmakers will again try to ban sanctuary cities this upcoming legislative session, but some spoke favorably about expanding legal immigration to address the state’s workforce shortage.

This 2020 photo shows the headquarters of the US Border Patrol in Swanton, Vt.Wilson Ring/Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. – Perspiring under the hot September sun, the State House dome glittering behind them, Republican state lawmakers and the state Republican Party chairman announced a new plan Sept. 8 for tackling illegal immigration, spurred by the latest numbers of encounters at the northern border.

It includes renewing efforts to ban sanctuary cities in New Hampshire through legislation, as the filing period for House bills opens next week. A similar effort last session failed. Republican leaders said they’ve created a “legal immigrant outreach subcommittee.”

Phil Abirached is deputy chairman of the subcommittee and said members are planning to do outreach and go “underground” in the state to reach communities to figure out how to avoid illegal immigration. Abirached, who is originally from Lebanon, said he has been in the United States for 35 years and is himself a legal immigrant.

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Republican Party chairman Chris Ager said the subcommittee already has met with the Nepalese community during its New Year’s celebration and it plans to meet with Somali leaders and small business owners in Manchester “to make sure they feel welcome.”

“If they have any language barriers and need help just fitting into the community, we want to help them fit in,” he said.

The announcement came two days after Chief Border Patrol Agent Robert Garcia released the latest numbers from the Swanton sector of the northern border in Vermont, noting that there have been 6,100 encounters in the past 11 months, — 842 of them since July.

The Border Patrol has not released data on encounters occurring specifically on New Hampshire’s 58 miles of the 295-mile Swanton sector, which stretches acrossVermont, New Hampshire, and parts of New York.

Ager said the Republican Party has not been able to obtain New Hampshire-specific data, although it’s information it wants to have. Asked whether general information about the Swanton sector is enough to justify the concern, he said “just one” is a concern, pointing to a former Brazilian police officer who was arrested in Rye after he was convicted for his role in a 2015 massacre.

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Encounters in the sector during 2023 greatly outpace 2022. In 2022, there were 1,065 encounters, according to Border Patrol data, while in 2021, there were 365. In 2020, there were 574.

Senator Daryl Abbas said Republicans would file legislation similar to Senate Bill 132 to ban sanctuary cities and towns. He said the bill would target municipalities with a policy instructing local police to ignore requests from the federal government to detain an individual in their custody.

He said the legislation would give local police “case by case discretion” on whether to work with federal authorities, like the state Senate amended version of SB 132 last session, and that it would only apply to individuals already in state custody.

“It’s not giving police the authority to go bring someone into custody because of that federal retainer,” he said.

Civil rights advocates — including the ACLU of New Hampshire — opposed that legislation, which they said would require local police to enforce immigration, a role they said would ultimately harm public safety, not increase it.

Abbas spoke favorably about expanding legal immigration to address New Hampshire’s pressing workforce shortage.

“All we’re trying to do is get a hold of this. We actually could expand lawful immigration which would help New Hampshire,” he said. “We have workforce shortages. A lot of people would come here in the summer to work.”

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Amanda Gokee can be reached at amanda.gokee@globe.com. Follow her @amanda_gokee.