By KATHY McCORMACK
Associated Press Writer
JAFFREY, N.H.- A judge questioned a prosecutor and defense attorneys at length about a town's use of trespassing law against illegal immigrants and expressed doubt that he was the right authority to determine someone's immigration status."Is it really my role?" Jaffrey District Court Judge L. Phillips Runyon III asked in court Tuesday in the case of a Mexican man who was charged with trespassing in New Ipswich in April.
Prosecutor Nicole Morse told the judge that local authorities were trying to protect their communities, not enforce federal immigration law. Defense attorneys said the state Legislature did not mention immigration when it created the trespassing law, and that using it in such cases could cause chaos in the court system and spread to other states.
Runyon was asked to decide the validity of using the trespassing law before hearing the trial of Jorge Mora Ramirez, who has admitted he entered the U.S. illegally from Mexico.
The judge made no decision on the issue Tuesday and said he wouldn't decide Ramirez's case until two of 10 similar cases in the nearby town of Hudson go to court. Ramirez's lawyers plan to appeal if the use of the trespassing law is upheld.
Ramirez, 21, who is from Mexico City and lives in Waltham, Mass., has pleaded innocent. He was issued a citation _ a violation akin to a parking ticket _ which carries a fine and no jail time if he is convicted.
The trespassing law says a person is guilty when he "knows that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or remains in any place."
In his questions to the prosecutor about how such applications of the law would work, Runyon asked if foreign visitors could be detained if they left their passport at their hotel. Morse said foreigners would be expected to have the documents.
"Are you suggesting that those people are going to be charged criminally?" Runyon asked. Morse responded that out-of-the-country visitors shouldn't be driving if all they have with them is a driver's license.
Runyon also asked how national security is improved by a charge that just carries a fine. Morse said the issue is whether proper procedures have been followed, likening it to whether a driver has had a car inspected.
Defense laywer Mona Movafaghi said if the tactic's use continued, immigrants would be afraid to approach police at all. And the officers would need significant training in immigration law, which is complex and frequently changes, Movafaghi said.
New Ipswich Police Chief W. Garrett Chamberlain said he would have no comment until the judge makes his ruling. Hudson Police Chief Richard Gendron did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Related story: N.H.: Town used trespass law to fight illegal aliens