Is "get off my property" the same as "get outta my country?" One police chief in New Hampshire sure seems to think so. He has charged an illegal immigrant with criminal trespassing; hoping Washington and Immigration Services will get the message.
On April 15, Police Chief W. Garrett Chamberlain of New Ipswich, N.H., arrested Jorge Mora Ramirez for driving without a valid license. Ramirez, 21, was on his way to his construction job when his sport utility vehicle broke down. When police noticed the vehicle, they stopped to see if the driver needed help.
Ramirez, who speaks very little English, offered false identification documents, including a phony Massachusetts driver's license with an incorrect Social Security Number and no state seal. His only valid form of identification was a Mexican driver's license. Ramirez admitted he was in the country illegally, and that he worked for a construction company in the nearby town of Jaffrey, and lived in Waltham, Massachusetts. He was only passing through New Ipswich.
That was his biggest mistake. "He's in the country illegally, so he's in New Ipswich illegally," said Police Chief Chamberlain.
Chamberlain has dealt with illegal immigrants before. In July, his department detained nine illegal immigrants from Ecuador, who allegedly worked for a Massachusetts roofing company. Through an interpreter, the men admitted that they had been smuggled across the border from Mexico into California
When Chamberlain alerted Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials that he had detained nine illegal aliens, ICE refused to respond. Because the men had committed no criminal acts, ICE would not come and take custody of them. Chamberlain had no choice but to release the men back into America
That incident prompted Chamberlain to speak to the state's attorney general, about the state's criminal trespass statute that says, "A person is guilty of criminal trespass if, knowing he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or remains in any place." The attorney general gave Chamberlain the go-ahead to arrest illegal aliens under this statute.
"We're stepping up to the plate and doing what the federal government refuses to do," said Chamberlain, and his determination is paying off. In October, police found 11 Mexican nationals living in New Ipswich. This time, ICE responded, and took the illegal immigrants into custody.
"ICE is committed to maintaining integrity in the nation's immigration system," said Matthew Etre, Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge of the New England ICE office. "We will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to identify and remove those who don't belong here."
But would federal authorities be willing to cooperate if police departments in other states decide to follow Chamberlain's lead? That depends largely on local and state law. Even though Ramirez admitted to being in the U.S. illegally, ICE refused to take him into custody until the criminal trespass charge was added to the charge of driving without a license. It seems as long as illegal aliens obey they law, ICE is not anxious to deport them.
On May 3, Ramirez pleaded guilty to the charges against him, but later changed his plea after the Mexican Consulate and the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union secured a defense attorney for him.
"We think it's a misuse of the law and it was not the intent of the statute to be used in that way," said Ramirez's attorney, Mona Movafaghi. She argues that Chamberlain violated the Vienna Convention when he failed to put Ramirez in touch with the Mexican Consulate. "If he feels like this is his mission in life, he should join ICE," Movafaghi said of Chamberlain's crack-down on illegal aliens.
Whether this gambit will be successfully duplicated in other states depends largely on the outcome of the Ramirez case. The verdict will set precedent, acting as a guideline for local law enforcement when it comes to dealing with illegal aliens. "We'll see what happens when we get to court," Chamberlain said. "The American people want some type of control so the border can be secured."
A recent Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll supports Chamberlain's claim. Sixty-three percent of respondents see illegal immigration as a "very serious" problem, and 67 percent favor using the U.S. military to stop illegals at the border.
No one knows how many illegal immigrants currently live in the country, but estimates run as high as 15 million. According to Immigration and Naturalization Services, that number increases by 300,000 annually. Georgia, North Carolina, and Arizona have the fastest increase in illegal population.
Many Americans see illegal immigration not only as a national security issue, but as an economic threat as well. An estimated 6 million illegal immigrants currently hold American jobs. American taxpayers spend 7 billion dollars each year to educate the children of illegal immigrants.
On April 28, President Bush held a prime time press conference that lasted over an hour. Illegal immigration was not mentioned.
But not every politician turns a blind eye to the issue. In February, Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo awarded Chamberlain and his department an American Patriot Award, for their vigilance in dealing with illegal immigrants.
Chamberlain has also received national attention in the press, and an outpouring of support from the American public - e-mails and phone calls, thanking him for his efforts. But have they been successful? According to Chamberlain, there have been no illegal immigrants in his jurisdiction since he arrested Ramirez last month. His department is taking on a national problem at the local level, and if the politicians in Washington have failed to notice, the illegal aliens in New England most certainly have not. They've received the message, loud and clear: steer clear of New Ipswich, New Hampshire.