JAFFREY, N.H. - A judge heard lawyers for an area police department argue yesterday that stopping illegal immigrants in their vehicles and arresting them for criminal trespass was a novel and legally valid way to promote public safety and protect national borders.
"What the state is doing in this case, we are trying to create a situation where, within our community, police are able to perform their function of protecting public safety by enabling the citizenry to know who is among them," said prosecutor Brenda Hume, representing the police chief of the small town of Hudson.
But attorneys for seven undocumented immigrants - all from Latin America - countered that immigration laws were federally determined and that state and local authorities could not establish policies about who could enter or remain in a state or municipality.
"It is not the role of the local police or state police to create and/or enforce state laws that conflict with [federal] immigration laws, because their actions can have a negative effect on national security," defense attorney Mona T. Movafaghi said.
Jaffrey-Peterborough District Court Judge L. Phillips Runyon III said yesterday that he would issue a written decision on the request by the immigrants' lawyers to dismiss all charges.
The seeds for the case were sown when Police Chief W. Garrett Chamberlain of New Ipswich, another small town in this region of southern New Hampshire, stopped a van for speeding last summer. Inside, Chamberlain found 10 men from Ecuador. All said that they did not have valid immigration documents.
Chamberlain said he was concerned about threats to homeland security when he called the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency - and was told to let the men go. He then met with a local prosecutor to try to find a legal basis to pursue illegal immigrants.
They decided to invoke a New Hampshire law that states that "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."
Chamberlain made his first arrest using the tactic in April, when Jorge Mora Ramirez's car broke down along a New Ipswich road. Police said Ramirez produced false identification and a Mexican driver's license.
Soon, police Chief Richard Gendron of Hudson followed suit. His officers used the trespass law to cite at least eight people. All were young men working as roofers or landscapers.
At a preliminary hearing in June, Runyon said he would rule on a request to dismiss the Ramirez case after he had heard initial arguments from the Hudson defendants.
Police dismissed charges against one man arrested in Hudson without comment. Six defendants appeared before the judge yesterday, but a seventh inadvertently went to the wrong courthouse in a different city. None of the defendants speaks English.
Several of the men were represented by lawyers hired by the Mexican government, whose Boston consul general declared yesterday's proceeding "legally invalid, discriminatory and a violation of human rights."
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.