Thursday, May 05, 2005

Police Charge Illegal Immigrant With Criminal Trespassing

Frustrated by perceived federal indifference to illegal immigrants, a small-town police chief struck back Tuesday by employing a novel legal strategy against a construction worker whose vehicle had broken down. Mexican citizen Jorge Mora Ramirez, 21, pleaded guilty to trespassing last month in nearby New Ipswich and agreed to report to immigration authorities. New Ipswich Police Chief W. Garrett Chamberlain charged Ramirez with criminal trespassing -- a violation comparable to a traffic ticket -- on April 15 after immigration officials refused to take him into custody. Ramirez, who also pleaded guilty to operating without a valid license, has until Friday afternoon to report to immigration authorities in Manchester. A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to say what the agency would do if he doesn't show up.
The 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." "It is a novel application of state law," said Kris Kobach, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, a specialist in immigration law who was counsel to former Attorney General John Ashcroft. Ramirez, of Waltham, Mass., was having trouble with his sport utility vehicle and had pulled along a state road, Chamberlain said. An officer went to check it out. For identification, Ramirez produced a Mexican driver's license and a Massachusetts photo ID that lacked a state seal. He admitted to police that he was living in the U.S. illegally and worked for a Jaffrey construction company. He pleaded guilty in Jaffrey District Court. "What I'm trying to do is find a manner in which we can get the federal government to step up to the plate and start helping out here," Chamberlain said. "It's basically a situation here where right now if you make it past the border patrol, you're free and clear. There's no interior enforcement for illegal immigration in the United States. What I'm hoping to do is find a way that if the feds aren't going to help us out, then local enforcement can take care of it." Last summer, New Ipswich police detained nine illegal immigrants from Ecuador but let them go when immigration officials said they would not take them. In October, a group of 11 Mexicans identified as illegal immigrants was arrested in town, but immigration officials did arrest them. Paula Grenier, a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement in New England, said when the agency officially gets information on Ramirez, "we intend to write him up and put him into removal proceedings." But the fact is, she said, this case is about one illegal immigrant whose only crime was being broken down on the side of the road. (Illegal Immigrant... only crime was being broken down???) "The police chief is choosing to use this alien to grandstand about illegal immigration," she said. "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. We prioritize our investigations on criminals and criminal networks that pose a threat," she said. Grenier pointed out that in New Hampshire, for example, her agency recently caught two men linked to a Boston chapter of the brutal Central American crime gang MS-13, which is known for beheading enemies, severing limbs and boasting zero tolerance for police informants. Manny Van Pelt, an immigration spokesman in Washington, D.C., said the case illustrates a trend by states and municipalities to enforce immigration laws "through legislation, creative applications of the law such as this, and better in-depth cooperation" with federal authorities. Clare Ebel of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union said Ramirez pleaded guilty to a crime he didn't commit. "I think it's clearly an absurdity to suggest that the criminal trespass law applies," she said. "It's not novel; it's bizarre." Kobach disagreed, noting that the federal government had not "licensed" Ramirez to be in the United States. "As long as the state statute is operating consistently with federal law and operates to assist the enforcement of federal law, then there is no problem with use of the state statute in this case," he said.