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As NH expands surveillance along the Canadian border, immigration and civil liberties activists push back

On Route 3 in Stewartstown, New Hampshire, a sign informs motorists about the Canadian customs at the nearby border with Canada. Dan Tuohy photo.
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR
On Route 3 in Stewartstown, New Hampshire, a sign informs motorists about the Canadian customs at the nearby border with Canada.

New Hampshire’s plan to increase patrols and surveillance along its border with Canada is drawing praise from Republican politicians. But civil liberties and immigrants rights activists are raising alarm that an expansion of police powers comes despite a lack of data supporting claims there are migrants flowing across the state’s international boundary.

Gov. Chris Sununu and Attorney General John Formella released details of the Northern Border Alliance Task Force last week. The $1.4 million effort includes the purchase of unspecified equipment and increased police patrols within 25 miles of the border. State officials are also granting new powers to local and state police to temporarily detain suspected migrants who crossed the border without proper paperwork.

The move comes as U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say they’ve seen a surge in crossings in the region, though neither federal nor state officials have shared hard numbers about the rate of crossings along New Hampshire’s portion of the international border.

Sebastian Fuentes, with the advocacy group Rights and Democracy, called the new initiative little more than “performative politics” in advance of next year’s election.

“Nobody has been able to show any numbers, or any kind of data, to validate those comments,” said Fuentes, who lives in Thornton.

The ACLU of New Hampshire is in an ongoing legal battle with Border Patrol over the release of state-level statistics on illegal crossings. On Friday, the civil liberties group also criticized the governor’s office and the New Hampshire Department of Safety for leaning into this new enforcement effort without showing hard evidence for why it’s needed.

Gov. Chris Sununu along with Attorney General John Formella announce details of the Northern Border Task Force Alliance last week.
Todd Bookman/NHPR
Gov. Chris Sununu along with Attorney General John Formella announce details of the Northern Border Task Force Alliance last week.

Frank Knaack, the group’s policy director, characterized it as part of an effort to “to expand police power and surveillance within the Granite State under the guise of a ‘crisis’ on our border.”

The new task force was funded in the latest two-year state budget. The money, according to Formella, will cover the cost of an additional 10,000 hours of patrols by local and state police near the international border.

The Department of Justice is also laying out new rules to allow those officers to “cooperate with federal law enforcement officers in preventing and detecting crime and apprehending criminals, including those who have committed federal immigration-related crimes.” In practice, this could allow officers to temporarily detain suspected migrants who entered the country illegally and hand those people over to Border Patrol officials.

While state and federal officials haven’t specified how many border crossings are happening in New Hampshire, the Border Patrol has released statistics documenting a surge in interactions with suspected migrants across the region encompassing New York, Vermont and New Hampshire. Border agents have reported nearly 7,000 interactions in the region in the past 12 months, up from 1,095 encounters with suspected migrants during the 12 months prior, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Federal authorities have announced two suspected cases of human smuggling along the New Hampshire border in 2023. In one instance this July,10 people were detained in Pittsburg — nine people who allegedly entered the country illegally, and one man accused of facilitating their crossing. In September, four more people accused of illegal entry were arrested in Stewartstown, inside a vehicle that was first spotted in Vermont, according to court paperwork.

At a press conference announcing the new task force, Sununu criticized the Biden Administration and the state’s congressional delegation — all Democrats — for a lack of action on border security.

"We can't stand by, and we won't," Sununu said. "We're going to do whatever we can to make sure that we're providing the necessary resources and security for our citizens."

The northern border has become a regular stop for Republican politicians seeking elected office in recent months, including presidential and gubernatorial hopefuls. Earlier this summer, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen also met with local law enforcement during a trip to Pittsburg.

In a statement, Shaheen’s spokesperson rejected Sununu’s claims of inaction by Democrats, noting that she has been advocating for the issue dating back to her time as governor and has backed more funding for border patrol as a U.S. Senator.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University. He can be reached at tbookman@nhpr.org.
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