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Police Reporting Of Unauthorized Immigrants Varies Dramatically Between N.H. Towns

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Emily Corwin for NHPR
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As immigration officials ramp up deportation of new classes of unauthorized immigrants, more residents and visitors without documents fear run-ins with police.

On New Hampshire's diverse Southern border, a traffic stop in one town could lead to very different consequences than the same kind of stop one town over.

In Salem, Police Captain Joel Dolan said any time his officers come across someone without a valid ID at a traffic stop, or in an arrest for any kind of crime, his department alerts Immigration officials. His officers are free to inquire peoples’ immigration status, as are officers next door in Pelham.

Fifteen miles away in Nashua, police chief Andrew Lavoie said his officers are trained never to ask anyone’s immigration status. “There’s no New Hampshire law that covers that,” he said, “why would we ask your status we can’t enforce that law?”

The Nashua Police will only contact federal immigration officials about offenders charged with felonies or violent misdemeanors, Lavoie said. “But again,” he added, “that’s only if we find out about it.”

If immigration officials have a warrant for someone in the country illegally, Lavoie said he will serve that warrant just like he would serve a warrant for another state.

Nashua is one of New Hampshire’s most diverse cities, with a sizable immigrant community. That may be one reason Lavoie chooses to leave immigration questions to the feds – while his colleagues in smaller, less diverse towns like Salem and Pelham – take a different path.

Still all of the officers NHPR spoke with agreed that victims and witnesses of crimes are safe, no matter their immigration status.

In Nashua, a refugee resettlement community, Lavoie said even immigrants with documents fear police. He emphasized that his job is to “protect everybody whether you’re here legally, or here illegally.” In Salem, Captain Dolan agreed, saying his department would never re-victimize someone who reports a crime.

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