NH communities discuss sanctuary status
DURHAM — A number of people in Durham turned out Monday night to have a conversation with the town council about becoming a sanctuary city.
Doctoral students from Iran were the first to speak about the struggles immigrants face as they pursue their studies at the University of New Hampshire. Fatemeh Rahmanifard and Banafsheh Ferdousi spent long periods of time away from their families and, at times, felt they could not go home because they would not be allowed to return into the country. They fear that it will be harder for other students to pursue their studies under President Donald Trump’s recent travel ban and executive order that vows to strip sanctuary cities of all federal grants.
“We are all worried about still more uncertainties that are yet to come. Are there going to be more restrictions? Can we even finish our Ph.D.s?” Rahmanifard asked the council.
A sanctuary city is generally defined as a municipality that adopts a policy of protecting illegal immigrants by not prosecuting them or reporting them for violating federal immigration laws. This can be set out in law or observed in practice by not using local money to enforce federal immigration laws. (Click here to read today's related editorial.)
Town administrator Todd Selig said prior to the meeting he does not feel Durham should make such a declaration, which could potentially put Durham in the crosshairs of Trump.
Selig said police in Durham are only allowed to enforce local and state laws. They typically deal with immigration issues if someone who is here from another country breaks one of those laws. For example, when a University of New Hampshire student in the United States on a Visa was clocked traveling at 140 mph on Route 4, Durham officials notified the consulate for their country. When they received reports of unpaid migrant workers building housing meant for students, officials contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the state’s labor department for assistance, Selig said.
Selig called a sanctuary city declaration a “toothless tiger” because police in Durham do not profile residents and have never been asked to by the federal government.
“It doesn’t get us anywhere in the debate,” Selig said. “I don’t recommend we move down this path.”
Durham town councilor and state Rep. Wayne Burton encouraged everyone in attendance at Monday’s meeting to read the executive order Trump signed on Jan. 27 referring to sanctuary cities. Burton said he has been reading the order, and that the federal government can declare Durham a sanctuary city and strip them from funding even if the town does not declare itself one.
“If you haven’t read this document, it’s very troubling,” Burton said.
In Portsmouth, members of the city council also expected to hear more about becoming a sanctuary city during their meeting Monday night. Assistant Mayor James Splaine said he and other council members asked deputy city manager Nancy Colbert Puff to give them an update on what the process would be to declare themselves a sanctuary city, and what the complications might be.
Portsmouth would be putting $5.5 million in federal grants at risk if it becomes a sanctuary city. Splaine said losing the money would not be worth it because, like Durham, police in Portsmouth are not in the business of profiling citizens, and follow all proper protocols if local or state laws are broken.
“I don’t think we need to make an issue out of it,” Splaine said. He said people have a hard time understanding immigration, and most of the people who are in the United States from another country are vetted.
Splaine said in the half-dozen calls he received on the issue, not one person from Portsmouth has reached out to him to express their desire to become a sanctuary city.
“I don’t see a big demand for it,” Splaine said.
There are no sanctuary cities in New Hampshire, but the issue has come up over the years. Police chiefs in two towns, Hudson and New Ipswich, arrested illegal immigrants on charges of criminal trespassing over a decade ago. A judge in 2005 dismissed those charges on constitutional grounds that local police cannot enforce federal immigration law.