- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

For novel ideas to plug the cracks in the federal government’s flawed immigration policy, here’s a creative one: Charge illegal aliens with trespassing under state or local law. Police in two New Hampshire towns have started doing it, and officers around the country may well follow suit. Activists are crying foul and the Mexican consulate is displeased, but the rest of us should be glad to see local law-enforcement officers picking up the slack for President Bush and the United States Congress, both of whom refuse to deal with the country’s illegal-alien problem.

It all started in April when a police officer in New Ipswich, N.H., approached Jorge Mora Ramirez, a Mexican national, as Mr. Ramirez was having car trouble. In questioning, Mr. Ramirez admitted he was an illegal alien. Per protocol, New Ipswich police alerted federal authorities to the presence of an illegal. The Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement refused to take Mr. Ramirez into custody. So Chief of Police W. Garrett Chamberlain did something out of the ordinary: He charged the illegal alien with trespassing.

“My position was: If Mr. Ramirez was in the country illegally, he was obviously in the town of New Ipswich illegally,” Mr. Chamberlain told the Boston Globe. Mr. Ramirez apparently agreed; he pleaded guilty to charges of trespassing and operating a vehicle without a valid license. He is due in court next month. If convicted he would be fined up to $1,000 and would face no jail time. A conviction wouldn’t get illegals packing their bags. But it would send the message that breaking immigration law comes at a price.

The story of how this happened is a study in frustration with federal policy. As Mr. Chamberlain explained it to the Globe, he became concerned about federal indifference to immigration law in July 2004, when he pulled over a van containing 10 illegals from Ecuador who admitted they had been smuggled across the border. Mr. Chamberlain called Immigration and Customs Enforcement to report the illegals, but per usual, ICE declined to get involved. This prompted Mr. Chamberlain to begin looking for ways to remedy the situation.

“We’re 45 minutes north of Boston, it’s two weeks before the Democratic National Convention, and the immigration police have no interest in detaining these people long enough to find out who they really are,” he said.

Mr. Chamberlain came up with New Hampshire’s criminal trespassing law, which states that “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.” The state attorney general’s office told him that his novel use wasn’t prohibited by any other law. A few weeks ago in Hudson, N.H., that town’s police copied the tactic.

All this has the usual suspects up in arms, including the New Hampshire chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the AFL-CIO, a gaggle of activist groups, the Mexican consulate and at least one liberal state legislator. The Mexican consulate has hired a lawyer for Mr. Ramirez and plans to battle trespassing charges lest a precedent be created. The charges are the usual ones: unequal treatment, discrimination and xenophobia. There’s nothing like accusations of racism to trump a question of law. As the ACLU defended the Mexican consulate’s move: “They worry about vigilante police chiefs who will round up people based on the color of their skin.”

The critics should listen to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a Clintonista with a dog in the immigration fight, whose non-approval approval at a Southern New Hampshire University conference last week gets to the root of the issue. Enforcement “should not be done by local police chiefs,” he said, but continued that the case “shows federal immigration policies are not working. It shows Congress has failed to adopt a federal immigration policy.”

Mr. Richardson is right. In an ideal world, federal authorities would be taking up their immigration responsibilities. But the truth is that they are not. That’s why average Americans have been stepping in. Arizona’s Proposition 200 and Project Minuteman were grassroots-level responses to the federal abdication. Now, local law enforcement is pitching in, and we should be pleased about it.

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