Bills on Northern Border Alliance Seek Accountability, Racial Information

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Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of ACLU-NH, is pictured speaking at the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.


CONCORD – The new Northern Border Alliance Program for the state with Canada and getting more accountability data were the subjects of hearings before the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday with at least one member questioning the need for information on the race of those being arrested.

An official for ACLU-NH said it is important to look at potential racial profiling and to provide that data to the legislature to better understand what is going on.

State Rep. Alissandra Murray, D-Manchester, introduced the two bills which have already passed the House. House Bill 1054 would change the border program from a non-lapsing to a lapsing account and House Bill 1528 would require a semi-annual report to the legislature from the program to include the number of people arrested, their address, country of origin and their race.

Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, spoke in support of both measures, noting there is little known data to support the state’s $1.4 million investment and data is important for the program’s accountability.

He argued that data so far has shown a “pretty small” number of encounters and arrests at New Hampshire’s border to begin with and in the past he has questioned the need for the program.

On Oct. 19, 2023, Gov. Chris Sununu, Attorney General John Formella, and Safety Commissioner Robert Quinn announced the establishment of the Northern Border Alliance Task Force and $1,435,384 in state grant funds available to the New Hampshire State Police, Forest Rangers, and Fish and Game Department, as well as to county and local law enforcement agencies to fund patrols within 25 air miles of the Canadian border.

“The Task Force will also cooperate, as needed, with federal law enforcement officers in the enforcement of federal criminal immigration laws,” Sununu announced. 

“The Federal Government refuses to take action on our Northern Border,” said Sununu. “They cut funding, limited our resources, and have thrown their hands up. Without adequate federal support, the state is stepping up.”

He argued that encounters with individuals on the terrorist watch list at the Land Border Ports of Entry along the northern border have doubled since 2017. 

In fact, the data shows that over the entire northern border of the United States with Canada the Terrorist Screening Dataset (TSDS) also known as the “watchlist” of known or suspected terrorists had gone from 217 in 2017 to 484 in 2023 and year to date as of March 22 that number is at 126.

“This is a stark contrast to what we are seeing on the southern border, where Land Border Port of Entry encounters have decreased during that same time period (116 in 2017 to 80 in 2023.)

“In fact, just this year, 85 percent of all land border encounters with individuals on the terrorist watchlist occurred on the northern border – while only 15 percent occurred on the southern border. In meeting with local law enforcement up north, it is clear we need more targeted resources,” Sununu’s statement read.

The data was not exclusive to New Hampshire and what is going on here, though.

ACLU-NH secured data from the Customs and Border Protection in January that is limited to New Hampshire’s border. It showed there were about 21 encounters in the 15 months ending December 2023.

Bissonnette said this is not a “crisis” and the funds were unnecessary, misleading and the job dangerous for local law enforcement to take on.

New Hampshire has roughly 58 miles of border with Canada and one entry/exit point in Pittsburg, but it is part of the Swanton Sector of patrol, 295 miles in length from Swanton, New York and into Vermont.

The New Hampshire program is under the control of the Attorney General and all law enforcement officers conducting activities, patrols and investigations for the Northern Border Alliance Task Force serve under the general supervision and control of the Attorney General’s Office.

Rep. Murray said currently, the border program is set up in a non-lapsing account where the money goes back to it if unspent at the end of two years. The bill would make it a lapsing fund after this biennium, and the unused money would go back into the state’s general fund.

“The House was pretty split on this program when it came before us and it is a new program. At the time of its institution, we did not have a ton of data to back it up,” Murray said. “The next biennium we can assess the program’s success or not and determine the amount of money needed moving forward.”

Murray noted most of the funds for this biennium are being used for training officers from local north country departments, state and county agencies. 

The first phase of the Northern Border Alliance Task Force began in October of 2023 with participation from State Police. 

The second phase began when the rules for the Northern Border Alliance Program became effective several months later, allowing local and county law enforcement agencies to apply for funding from the Northern Border Alliance Program and execute grant agreements with the state. 

Those agreements are now largely approved and training is underway.

House Bill 1054 passed the House on a narrow vote of 188-180, while House Bill 1528, relative to reporting requirements for the program, passed on a voice vote.

Those watching the hearings online supported the measures with only two people opposing.

Bissonnette said he thinks it is important for the legislature to see the data on the race of the people arrested at the border.

“We continue to have concerns based on the limited data available,” Bissonnette said. “To what extent could racial profiling occur under this program if in fact local law enforcement are kind of deputized to assess whether someone was undocumented? How do you evaluate that?”

He said this is not designed to burden law enforcement in any way but to provide the legislature with more data points. 

A person’s race is noted on the complaint form when a complaint is filed against someone. It is not always checked off in some cases but it is something that is on the form, he said.

This does not mandate it under the bill, it is just a data point that should be included in the report.

Sen. Dan Innis, R-Bradford, wanted to know the reason for asking for race information. Innis asked if there is data that shows it is an issue.

No, Bissonnette said, that is the point, there is a lack of data and race is not part of the existing program data being collected.

“More data is better,” and it could pick up disparities, Bissonnette said. If the data shows that 80 percent of those arrested are not white when 80 percent of those who pass through the area are white, that would show something to the legislature.

“…I’m not saying people are overtly or maliciously doing this – but part of that calculous could be ‘Oh, is that a black- or a brown-skinned person’ as opposed to someone who might look like me who is hiking in the Pittsburg area,” said Bissonnette, who is white.

“Maybe there is an issue, maybe there isn’t, but I think that is the underlying concern motivating the legislation,” Bissonnette said. “You don’t know if there is a problem because you don’t have the data. So, I think it is a chicken and an egg situation.”

Innis said: “That’s a lot of eggs.”

Bissonnette said: “What’s wrong with having more data?”

He said there is some new information from the program which he shared with the committee. There was a Jan. 22, 2024, report which is the first Department of Safety report that covers only three weeks of the program.

But between Dec. 10, 2023, and Dec. 31, 2023, there were 22 patrol shifts with 79 encounters which included motor vehicle stops, pedestrian warnings, warnings, criminal investigations, summonses and two arrests.

“I don’t see any indications in that report that any of these 79 encounters were immigration-related. So again,” Bissonnette said. “I think there are some questions about is this an efficacious program or not. I think making sure that these funds are lapsing provides another accountability check. Those funds go back to the general fund and then of course, there can be appropriations next year to evaluate whether this program is performing its function or not.”

The committee took no vote on the bills following the hearings.

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