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'Everybody uses us as bargaining chips': N.H. Latino advocates question their alliance with the Democratic party

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Gaby Lozada
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NHPR
Ariel Duque protested against Title 42 earlier this month in Manchester. "It is shameful that a politician supports a measure like this one," he said.

During the past month, activists and advocates have gathered at a series of rallies across the state to criticize two of New Hampshire’s Democratic members of Congress, Senator Maggie Hassan and Representative Chris Pappas, for their support of a policy that stops migrants, including asylum seekers, from entering the U.S. to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Citing access to vaccines and other therapeutics to fight Covid-19, the CDC plans on lifting the policy, known as Title 42, on May 23. But Hassan and Pappas are just a handful of Congressional Democrats pushing the Biden administration to extend it for 60 days once the government announces the end of the public health emergency related to Covid-19.

Since the Trump administration first implemented Title 42 in March 2020, the federal government has expelled migrants more than 1.8 million times.

Local Latino advocates and other activists - many who voted for Hassan and Pappas in the past - see this as an anti-immigrant and racist policy. They say the support for it is just the latest example of the friction between them and New Hampshire's federal delegation when it comes to being heard and represented.

Several New Hampshire Democratic Latino Caucus members have resigned in protest, including state representative Maria Perez, who says Hassan and Pappas’s actions are hypocritical.

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Gaby Lozada
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NHPR
"I don't fear to be vocal against the Democratic delegation when it comes to defending immigrants' rights," said Rep. Maria Perez. She participated in a Worker's Day rally in Manchester earlier in May.

Carlos Cardona is another Latino who resigned from his post as chair of the Laconia Democrats. He said the party was united in 2020; several Democratic Latinos were even elected to the statehouse.

But now, the support for Title 42 is the cherry on top of what he says is a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment. From his point of view, there’s disgust and anger with the Democratic party in New Hampshire more broadly.

“And to instill fear in the Latino and immigrant community in a state where we know racism and white supremacy are alive and well is enhancing and further promoting it,” Cardona said.

He says there could be repercussions when Hassan and Pappas face a tough re-election in November.

In the 2016 election, Sen. Hassan won by only 1,017 votes.

“We are all disgusted by the fact that we helped these people get elected. We feel we have been slapped in the face with this,” Cardona said.

Like him, many activists say this is a tipping point in the support they will provide in the upcoming election.

“I know for sure I am not going to knock on doors, not going to make phone calls or do anything to promote them. Many people told me, ‘We are not working for the party,'” said Eva Castillo, a well-known Latina advocate and director of the New Hampshire Alliance of Immigrants and Refugees.

She says Democratic candidates rely on activists like her, with deep community roots, to make sure Latino voters show up on Election Day.

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Gaby Lozada
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NHPR
Though Castillo will not be working for the Democrats this year, she will still be calling on Latinos to exercise their right to vote. "No matter what party, people should vote," she said.

Castillo and others are particularly angry at a video Hassan published a few weeks ago standing in front of the border, discussing her support for Title 42, in a way that some Latino activists in New Hampshire saw as an insult.

“Win or lose, we are always in the middle, and everybody uses us as bargaining chips,” said Castillo.

Rep. Perez says even trying to get meetings directly with Hassan to talk about essential workers' rights, asylum seekers, or something like Title 42 is an uphill battle. She says she and other advocates have been trying to meet with Hassan directly for the past three years.

“So far, we haven’t heard back,” Perez said.

Castillo says with Pappas, there’s been more openness in the past, which makes his support for Title 42 surprising. “That really hurts more,” she said.

In an email to NHPR, Rep. Pappas's staff said he has remained in regular contact with constituents and supports “humanitarian” immigration.

“Congressman Pappas has called for the Biden Administration to put a plan in place before the rescission of Title 42 that ensures a safe and effective transition away from a border policy.,”

Laura Epstein, Sen. Hassan's spokesperson, said that members of her office have spoken with Granite Staters with various perspectives on immigration and Title 42.

“It was clear to Senator Hassan that the administration is not prepared to handle the increase in migrants that would come if the administration were to prematurely end Title 42, which is why she continues to share her concerns about this,” Epstein said.

But Latino advocates insist these meetings have yet to take place with them when it comes to Title 42. That, Castillo says, lets them know where the Latino community falls on the priority list for these politicians.

When it comes to the upcoming midterms, “I really don’t know what I am going to do,” she said.

Castillo's fear is that Latino support won’t be missed in the party.

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Gaby Lozada
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NHPR
Protestors marched to Rep. Pappas's office in Dover on May 12 to deliver a letter expressing their disagreement with his support for Title 42. A member of his staff met them very briefly to receive the letter.

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