CONCORD, N.H.- Two police chiefs, frustrated by what they claim is the government's failure to pursue illegal immigrants, are taking a novel approach to homeland security: using a trespassing law to arrest undocumented immigrants.
W. Garrett Chamberlain pioneered the tactic in New Ipswich and Hudson chief Richard Gendron enthusiastically joined in. Both say they are helping to prevent another Sept. 11.
"What do you do?" Gendron said recently. "As a law enforcement officer, I have a difficult time with someone who's not supposed to be in this country. If we're really, truly concerned about homeland security, this is one of the areas we have to give attention to."
Both say they have received messages of support from police and border patrol agents nationwide.
Chamberlain has appeared on national television and got an award from Colorado Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo _ a conservative known for his tough stand on immigration who's considering a run for president.
Also visiting the first presidential primary state recently was New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who criticized the chiefs' actions.
"You can't have police chiefs do this indiscriminately around the country," said Richardson, who is Hispanic and a potential Democratic presidential candidate. He said the episode shows that "federal immigration policies are not working."
Other law enforcement officials aren't so comfortable with the tactic either.
In Nashua, the state's second-largest city and home to a large Hispanic population, Deputy Police Chief Don Conely says charging immigrants with trespassing isn't in the "true spirit" of the law.
The trespassing statute says a person is guilty of criminal trespassing if, "knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or remains in any place."
Creative use of the trespassing law comes at a time when many states are seeking their own solutions to illegal immigration. Some state and county police agencies want to join a federal program that enlists local officers to enforce immigration laws. Florida and Alabama already have that authority.
In Arizona, volunteers in the Minuteman Project spent a month monitoring part of the Mexican border. And in Elsmere, Del., the town council considered fining people who could not produce proof they were legal residents.
New Hampshire has no more than 10,000 undocumented immigrants, putting it in the bottom tier of states, according to a March report by the Pew Hispanic Center. In the 2000 census, 96 percent of New Hampshire's 1.2 million residents were white, 1.7 percent Hispanic and less than 1 percent black.
Attorney Mona Movafaghi, who represents three of the 10 immigrants cited so far in New Hampshire, says using state law to enforce immigration laws "is not permissible under the U.S. Constitution. The power to regulate immigration is an exclusive power given to the federal government," she said.
And even though southern New Hampshire is just three hours from the Canadian border, the immigrants cited are from Mexico and South America _ a sign of racial profiling, opponents say.
"What's the message here? If your skin is brown ... stay out of my town?" said Randall Drew, co-counsel with Movafaghi.
In April, a New Ipswich officer found 21-year-old Jorge Mora Ramirez's sport utility vehicle pulled alongside a road with its flasher on. Ramirez said he was from Mexico and acknowledged having fake identification and being in the country illegally.
He was cited for a violation _ comparable to a traffic ticket _ after immigration officials refused to take him into custody. He faces a $1,000 fine and no jail time.
"There is no safe harbor in the entire state where Mr. Mora Ramirez could go to avoid breaking the law," Movafaghi said in a motion to dismiss the case.
Dean Boyd, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, declined to comment on the use of New Hampshire's trespassing law. Last month, regional spokeswoman Paula Grenier was more forthcoming.
"We, in fact, arrest illegal aliens every day in this country who are violent criminals and who pose a threat to public safety and national security," she said. "We prioritize our investigations."