New Tack Against Illegal Immigrants: Trespassing Charges

By Michael Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 10, 2005

NEW IPSWICH, N.H. -- The police chief of this tiny whitewashed New England town has crafted his own border-control policy -- he has charged illegal immigrants from Mexico with trespassing in New Hampshire.

The novel legal strategy has made a minor celebrity of W. Garrett Chamberlain. The 36-year-old police chief hops to his feet and deposits a pile of letters on his desk, from Alaskans and Californians, Border Patrol agents and soldiers in Iraq, all applauding his initiative. Fox News commentators have called, too, seeking his views on national immigration policy.

Chamberlain, who has served as chief for three years, describes his actions as born of frustration with the federal government. His officers had discovered illegal immigrants several times, but immigration agents declined to detain them.

"I'm just saying: 'Wait a minute. We're on heightened alert and it's post-9/11, and I'm going to let an illegal immigrant who I don't know from Adam just walk away?' " Chamberlain said. "That's ridiculous. If I find you are in my country illegally, I'm not going to worry about political correctness. I will detain you."

So another shot is fired in the often-testy debate over U.S. immigration policies and border security, a battle fraught with political and ethnic anxieties. Already, another police chief, Richard E. Gendron in nearby Hudson, N.H., has followed suit. A few days ago, Gendron brought trespassing charges against two illegal immigrants from Mexico after his officers stopped a van with a broken headlight. Several police chiefs in New Hampshire have suggested that they might pursue such tactics in the future.

For now, however, their eyes are trained on New Ipswich, a town of 4,200 people set in green hills just north of the Massachusetts border. The Mexican immigrant, Jose Mora Ramirez, faces trial on the trespassing charge in July. The two Mexicans arrested in Hudson will be tried later that month.

The Mexican consulate has hired an attorney for Ramirez, fearing that a court may uphold the trespassing charges and so set a national precedent.

"The Mexican government was understandably worried that this could become the charge du jour across the country," said Claire Ebel, executive director of the New Hampshire American Civil Liberties Union, which helped find the lawyer for Ramirez. "They worry about vigilante police chiefs who will round up people based on the color of their skin."

New Hampshire is 96 percent white but has seen a swell of immigration from south of the border in recent years. The Latino population, in particular, has grown in Manchester and Nashua. These two cities have at least 20,000 Latinos, of Uruguayan, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Mexican and Central American descent, and there are now two Latino members of the 424-member state House of Representatives.

"The $64,000 question is why these police chiefs are doing this," said state Rep. Hector M. Velez (D), who was born in Pennsylvania and served in Operation Desert Storm before moving to Manchester, about 20 miles northeast of New Ipswich. "They talk terrorism, but none of these guys were looking for anything except hard work. You ask me, some people are afraid of the unknown."

The two police chiefs insist that racial and ethnic considerations played no role in their calculations. (The populations of New Ipswich and Hudson are 98.6 and 96.3 percent white, respectively.) They note that their officers made the arrests during routine traffic stops at night.

"Look, if you came here legally, fine," Chamberlain said. "I greet you with open arms."

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