Thursday, July 21, 2005

Are undocumented immigrants trespassing in America?

New Hampshire cops are charging people suspected of being undocumented immigrants with violating the state’s criminal trespassing law.

Jorge Mora Ramirez was the first to be arrested. Back in April, the New Ipswich police chief saw him pulled over along the side of a road with his vehicle’s flashers on, making a cell phone call. (Of course, if he’d kept on driving while talking on the phone -- like most Americans -- he probably would have escaped notice.)

Ramirez, a 21-year-old Mexican who works for a roofing company, admitted he was in the country illegally. When immigration officials declined to pick him up, the police chief arrested Ramirez for criminal trespass.

New Hampshire law says “a person is guilty of criminal trespass if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or remains in any place.” A violation carries a maximum fine of $1,000, but no jail time.

The trial started last week, but was postponed because the judge has been asked to hear similar cases. Since Ramirez’ arrest, at least 10 more people have been arrested on trespassing charges.

Ramirez’ attorneys argued that the case should be dismissed because local police don’t have the authority to enforce federal immigration law.

Judge L. Phillips Runyon III questioned whether he had the authority to determine if a person is in the country illegally. “Is it really my role?” he said, adding that he knows nothing about immigration law.

Some New Hampshire lawmakers are drafting a bill that would give local police the authority to charge illegal aliens with criminal trespass, regardless of what happens in the Ramirez case. “We want to codify this into black-leather law,” state Rep. Andrew Renzullo was quoted by the Associated Press and the Union Leader. (Is that really the right quote? All the JD-impaired folks out there know the term is “black-letter.”)

Read articles in The New Hampshire Union Leader here and the Concord Monitor here and The Boston Globe here.


At 5:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The police department and the city are inviting a federal civil rights lawsuit. According to our Constitution, the enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws is federally preempted and falls within the sole province of the federal government. Even if the state law was intended to be interpreted so broadly as include trespassing onto U.S. soil by illegal immigrants, such a state law is clearly unconstitutional. In the mid 90’s, my wonderful state of California passed a ballot initiation known as “proposition 187” which similarly attempted to enforce or create some immigration policy. While prop 187 was overwhelmingly passed by Californians, it was easily struck down as being unconstitutional. Setting aside the constitutional issue of this story, I can’t help but to wonder why the roofing company (who employs this illegal immigrant) does not face charges for “aiding or abetting” or conspiracy to commit the very same crime. We always seem to focus on the immigrants rather than the employers who create the demand them, which is tantamount to arresting the prostitute but allowing the “John” go free! Is this fair or is it simply easier to pick on the foreigner?

Jorge Ramirez of California

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