Anti-sanctuary city bill hits House roadblock

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May 24—CONCORD — A controversial Senate-passed bill to prevent cities and towns from adopting "sanctuary city" policies hit a roadblock before a key House committee Wednesday.

The House Municipal and County Government Committee was deadlocked, 10-10, on whether to recommend that the full House kill the bill (SB 132).

A move to pass it failed, 11-9, when state Rep. Josh Yokela, R-Fremont, joined Democrats on the panel in opposing it.

"I think this is an end run around drug enforcement and I think the war on drugs has been an abject failure," Yokela said. "I don't feel we should be enforcing federal immigration policy."

Committee Chairman Len Turcotte, R-Barrington, said the bill does not require police to investigate cases of illegal immigration, but it would prevent a city or town from adopting an ordinance to block cooperation.

"The feds' failure at the southern borders, if they fail, we need to protect our state," Turcotte said.

The bill would apply to those in this country illegally who local or state police have arrested or put into custody for a crime committed in New Hampshire.

Rep. John MacDonald, R-Wolfeboro, a retired New Hampshire State Police detective, said this legislation respects federal orders to detain someone on the belief that a serious federal crime has been committed.

"If we don't cooperate with the federal government, we aren't going to resolve this immigration problem," MacDonald said.

But Rep. Jonah Wheeler, D-Peterborough, said the measure is a political talking point that he said ignores the real problem, a failure by Congress to pass federal immigration reform.

"There is serious chaos on the southern border and that is the result of no immigration policy, 40 years of destruction in South America," Wheeler said. "Doing this, detaining people more often, is not the solution."

Kevin Williams, a retired Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation officer, urged the House to pass the bill.

"I support SB 132 because without the support of local law enforcement, both legal and illegal aliens would be able to commit crimes in the United States without being placed in immigration proceedings," he wrote.

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, a likely Democratic candidate for governor in 2024, signed up against the bill. She said it would undermine the work of her city's police department to cooperate with federal authorities on serious criminal matters but also foster a relationship of trust with leaders of minority communities.

The New Hampshire Municipal Association and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester oppose the bill, along with the Americans for Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and immigrant advocacy groups.

The Senate passed the bill over to the House, 13-10, with all Republicans in support, all Democrats in opposition.

Senate Republicans argued the bill was in part a response to an increased number of immigrants in recent months being detained at the northern border with Canada.