Gov. Asks Delegation To Help Beef Up NH-Canada Border Security; ACLU Says No Need

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Sununu Instagram photo

Gov. Chris Sununu and Safety Commissioner Robert Quinn are pictured with Pittsburg Police Chief Richard Dube and an unidentified Border Patrol agent Aug. 3 at the Northern Border.


CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu is asking the state’s Congressional delegation to help increase security at the state’s border with Canada, claiming that illegal activity has increased dramatically.

Specifically, he is asking them to help secure an adequate Immigration and Customs Enforcement Delegation Agreement, where the Department of Homeland Security has refused to enter into a new agreement with the state.

The second is to identify funding to increase resources in the broad, 295-mile Swanton Sector border area and specifically the 58 miles in New Hampshire.

“It is evident Customs and Border Protection needs additional resources to better carry out their duties in the Swanton Sector,” Sununu said in a letter to the delegation.

But opponents said they do not believe it is necessary or a good idea.

Gilles Bissonnette, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Hampshire, said, “There is still no publicly available data to show evidence of a significant number of unauthorized crossings in New Hampshire, yet politicians are still using fear-based rhetoric to justify a massive expansion of police power and surveillance.
“Policies should be made on facts and data – especially considering these types of policies have been shown in study after study to have negative impacts on public safety. We believe Granite Staters have a right to know this information, and we’ll continue fighting in court for the full public release of this important data,” Bissonnette said on Friday.

In the Aug. 18 letter to U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Congresswoman Ann Kuster, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan, and Congressman Chris Pappas, all Democrats, Sununu cited an increase in illegal border crossings, drug trafficking, and other crimes which he said are increasing in frequency and require a stronger response.
The Swanton Sector stretches along the St. Lawrence  to Vermont and New Hampshire with New Hampshire’s portion largely at the tip of the state in Pittsburg.

Sununu said in February the Swanton Sector saw an 846 percent increase in encounters and apprehensions compared to the same period in FY22.

“Just this month, there have been reports that the 5,400 apprehensions in the Swanton Sector have eclipsed the last nine years combined. Law enforcement has consistently encountered large groups of people when individuals and pairs were previously the norm,” Sununu said.

A copy of the governor’s letter can be found here.

During the winter, Sununu told reporters about a man who died trying to cross the border in the dead of winter, but that happened in Vermont and opponents argue most of the illegal activity Sununu cited is not in New Hampshire.

In March, Commissioner of Safety Robert Quinn addressed a Congressional hearing asking for more federal help for the Swanton sector but Democrats in Washington called it a “manufactured crisis.”

On Aug. 3 Sununu visited the border at New Hampshire with Quinn and said, “Enforcing the law presents a significant challenge due to difficult terrain and sparse population. More staff and equipment will always be helpful, but the real issue is communication. Radio and cellular signals are wildly inconsistent. Officers and agents drop in and out of contact frequently, placing them in serious physical danger whenever they are pursuing a suspect or responding to an emergency. In the past, pursuits have been terminated over concern for responding officers’ safety.”

Although Sununu got approval from the Republican-controlled legislature to allocate up to $1.4 million on aiding the border, he told the delegation “we are extremely limited in what we can do at the state level to address the border crisis. The Department of Homeland Security denied New Hampshire’s request for an ICE Delegation Agreement, which would have allowed the State Police and local law enforcement to investigate alleged violations of federal law and detain suspects pending their transfer to Border Patrol’s custody. As it stands now, unless a crossing occurs on private property or the suspect otherwise violates our state’s trespassing laws, there is little we can do to stop the suspect or prevent the crossing in the first place.”

Sununu said the state will vigorously protect the property of Granite Staters who live near the border, “and we wish we could approach the broader national security and humanitarian crisis with the same vigor.”

The state budget allocation is for equipment, overtime, and other expenses that will help reinforce the state’s law enforcement presence on and around the border for the next two years.

“We are also exploring other legislative and rules changes to help the state, municipalities, and landowners tackle the issue of illegal immigration,” Sununu wrote.

In May, the American Civil Liberties Union affiliates in New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont announced they settled a federal lawsuit challenging unconstitutional Border Patrol checkpoints in northern New England.

The ACLU filed suit in August 2020, following a series of unlawful searches and seizures at a Border Patrol checkpoint in Woodstock, N.H., 90 miles from the Canadian border.

Border Patrol has not operated the Woodstock checkpoint—or any other temporary interior checkpoints in northern New England—since 2019.
In exchange for the withdrawal of this lawsuit, Border Patrol has agreed to refrain from operating the Woodstock checkpoint until January 1, 2025.

The ACLU, with clients Jesse Drewniak and Sebastian Fuentes, argued these checkpoints—conducted for the claimed primary purpose of general crime control and drug interdiction—are beyond the scope of CBP’s authority.

Prior to the ACLU’s lawsuit, CBP had detained hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals lawfully traveling in northern New England during the summer and fall tourist seasons without any suspicion that they may have committed a crime, the organization said.  

Sebastian Fuentes, a United States citizen living just five miles away from the Woodstock checkpoint, was ensnared in the checkpoint and was deeply troubled by his experience there.

On Friday, Fuentes told he is optimistic the delegation will ignore Sununu’s request.

“I am concerned that this electoral season move by the governor will affect our tourism industry in the North Country, an industry extremely important for residents in Coos, Grafton, and portions of Carroll County.

“What message are we sending to tourists coming to enjoy the White Mountains? That you can be searched and detained without probable cause just for the sake of finding out if you are a U.S. Citizen? What about the relationship between northern communities and law enforcement? If an emergency happens, is law enforcement dropping what they are doing to enforce other immigration duties?” Fuentes said.

He said he is concerned this will promote racial profiling.

“There is no crisis, there is no data. Only an election cycle where immigration once again will be used for votes,” Fuentes said.

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