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Proposed change to land use law could empower immigration enforcement along NH-Canada border

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Proposed change to land use law could empower immigration enforcement along NH-Canada border


For half a century, New Hampshire’s “current use” law has been a widely used and rarely controversial policy that lets landowners pay less in taxes in exchange for preserving open space, and in some cases, allowing the public to use their land for recreational uses.

But a little noticed proposed change to the statute pushed by the top Senate Republican this year would turn the current use statute into a new, untested immigration enforcement tool.

The bill, sponsored by Senate President Jeb Bradley, would permit landowners — including those who live along the state’s northern border with Canada — to post “no trespassing” signs with exceptions for recreational use. That would clear the way for suspected undocumented migrants to be potentially arrested by local law enforcement — rather than federal border patrol agents — for criminal trespassing.

The legislation was requested by Gov. Chris Sununu and Attorney General John Formella, according to Bradley. And while the proposed change would apply to more than a million acres of land in the state, it was prompted by the concerns of a small handful of residents in the town of Pittsburg who say they have seen migrants illegally entering New Hampshire by crossing a stream that serves as the border between the U.S. and Canada.

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This effort to reshape immigration enforcement using a relatively obscure section of land taxation law comes at a time when questions are being raised about the extent of immigration pressures along New Hampshire’s international border. Civil liberties groups have obtained data showing scant interactionsbetween border agents and suspected migrants in New Hampshire in recent months. But State House Republicans have argued the problem is far larger than the numbers suggest, and that it is time for the state to step up its own enforcement efforts.

“In New Hampshire and in 49 other states, we have seen the results of open border policies, not only human trafficking, but the import of illegal substances, in particular fentanyl, flowing across our southern and our northern border,” said Bradley during a recent public hearing on the bill.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen met with U.S. Border Patrol officials and local law enforcement in Pittsburg in September to ask about immigration enforcement challenges.

The measure would make a technical change to the state’s 50-year old current use law, which allows residents to put 10 or more acres of undeveloped land — including open fields, forest, and agricultural properties — into a special category for assessing property taxes. The program saves landowners money, but also encourages the preservation of open space.

Under the existing program, landowners can receive an additional tax deduction if they allow recreational use on the property by the public.

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The bill now in the State House would apply to those landowners who grant the public access to their land: It would permit them to post a sign that reads “No Trespassing except for skiing, snowshoeing, fishing, hunting, hiking or nature observation” without jeopardizing their tax break.

Under that change, suspected migrants who cross the international border onto residential land marked with the new signs could be arrested for criminal trespassing, although it isn’t clear what would distinguish a migrant carrying a backpack and wearing boots from any other hiker who is permitted to walk on the land.

“I believe — and I hope that you, as members of the committee, believe — that protecting our northern border to prevent drug smuggling, human trafficking, and illegal entry into our state is important,” Bradley told members of the Senate Judiciary committee.

Some activists, however, are concerned the measure could lead to racial profiling.

“I look brown,” said Bruno D’Britto, an immigration attorney who leads the New Hampshire Brazilian Council and opposes the bill. “Someone sees me on their property with a backpack, they are going to think I’m crossing the border.”

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D’Britto also noted that courts have generally ruled that immigration enforcement is the jurisdiction of the federal government and not the states.

“The states do have their sovereignty under the 10th Amendment, but this goes way beyond what the states can do,” he said. “Immigration has been allocated to the federal government.”

Gov. Chris Sununu along with Attorney General John Formella announce details of the Northern Border Task Force Alliance last year.

Gov. Chris Sununu along with Attorney General John Formella announce details of the Northern Border Task Force Alliance last year.

That hasn’t stopped some states, including Texas, from implementing its own immigration policies. There is currently a legal fight between officials in that state and the Biden Administration over the use of razor wire to ward off migrants.

Bradley, in an interview with NHPR, acknowledged the measure could face legal challenges if it becomes law.

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“I think it’s the best public policy, and if it’s legally challenged, it’s legally challenged,” he said, adding “the Attorney General’s office will be able to defend it.”

Bradley noted that a lack of perceived action by the federal government gives states like New Hampshire “a legitimate issue in terms of protecting their own sovereignty and the public safety.”

Earlier this month, the head of the regional Border Patrol office in Vermont, Chief Patrol Agent Robert Garcia, said his agents had apprehended 3,310 migrants from 55 different countries since October, more than the previous four fiscal years combined. Those figures, however, were not broken down by state.

While Republicans in New Hampshire frequently describe a migrant “crisis” along the state’s approximately 58-mile border with Canada — a heavily forested and remote stretch of land with relatively few crossing points — data obtained by the ACLU of New Hampshire last month through a lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection showed just 21 suspected migrants were detained by federal agents in the state in the 15-month period between October 2022 and December 2023.

Residents of a remote road that runs alongside the international boundary in the town of Pittsburg have raised concerns to NHPR about migrants crossing their property. Top officials in the state, including Sununu and U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, visited the area last year to meet with Border Patrol officials and local law enforcement, pledging more resources.

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There were two high-profile arrests of suspected migrants in New Hampshire last summer, though it wasn’t clear in court paperwork precisely where the individuals crossed the international boundary. In both cases, the drivers of vehicles transporting the migrants were arrested and charged with human smuggling. No narcotics or guns were seized, according to court paperwork.

Those cases, along with earlier data released by a regional Border Patrol outpost showing a surge in encounters with migrants across parts of upstate New York and Vermont, prompted the state to divert $1.4 million to increased patrols in the region. That money was allocated in the state budget despite concerns from immigration activists that the stepped up law enforcement would inevitably lead to racial profiling. The new effort, called the Northern Border Alliance Task Force, was launched last October. It has yet to release initial data on the program, despite a Dec. 31 deadline to do so.

This isn’t the first time the question of using New Hampshire’s criminal trespassing laws to arrest and detain undocumented people has arisen. In 2005, the Monadnock-region town of New Ipswich found itself in national headlines after local police pursued criminal trespassingcharges against an undocumented construction worker. The man was initially arrested and charged with operating a motor vehicle without a license. But when ICE agents contacted by the town declined to take him into custody, New Ipswich Police Chief Garrett Chamberlain charged Jorge Mora Ramirez with a misdemeanor under New Hampshire’s trespassing law, even though Ramirez was not accused of wrongfully entering private property.

A district court judge ultimately dismissed the case, ruling local law enforcement had overstepped its authority by attempting to enforce federal immigration laws through other means.

Today, more than 3 million acres of land are currently enrolled in current use status, or 52% of the entire land area of the state. Of those protected lands, approximately half of that acreage is also open to the public for recreational use, according to data on the Department of Revenue Administration’s website.

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Most of New Hampshire’s border with Canada is controlled by a single entity, Aurora Sustainable Lands, which has a conservation easement in place that prohibits placing ‘No Trespassing’ signs, according to Charles Levesque, president of the Statewide Program of Action to Conserve Our Environment, or SPACE, a group dedicated to protecting open lands through the current use law.

Another large stretch of borderland is controlled and managed by New Hampshire Fish and Game. Along an approximately 70-mile stretch of road in the western corner of the international boundary, where New Hampshire, Vermont and Canada meet, there are numerous parcels owned by private individuals, with some of those lands in current use with the recreational tax enhancement.

Levesque’s group is in favor of the proposed legislation, though not for its potential impact on those specific landowners or on illegal immigration. Rather, he said all landowners statewide who utilize the recreational bonus under current use need clarity on what type of signs they may be able to post, “because now the statute’s rather silent on that.”

But given the wildness of the terrain along the vast majority of the New Hampshire-Canada border, and the challenge in determining who is a legally permitted hiker or birdwatcher on private lands — versus who may be hiking but without proper paperwork to be in the country — it isn’t clear what impact the proposed legislation may ultimately have.

Levesque said he is doubtful the legislation will accomplish what lawmakers are hoping.

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“They’re looking for ways to give local law enforcement the authority here,” he said. “And this is what they came up with. I don’t think it will be effective.”





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New Hampshire

NH emergency officials: Stay safe as 50 mph winds knock out power for thousands

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NH emergency officials: Stay safe as 50 mph winds knock out power for thousands


New Hampshire emergency officials issued advice on staying safe as more than 14,000 people woke up Thursday morning without power following strong winds overnight.

The National Weather Service in Gray, Maine, has issued a Wind Advisory for New Hampshire, forecasting wind gusts could reach up to 50 mph. The advisory is in effect until 3 p.m. Thursday.

“If you lose power, keep you and your family safe,” said Robert Buxton, director of the New Hampshire Department of Safety’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, in a prepared statement. “Practice power outage safety. Never run a generator indoors. If you come across downed wires, stay away and call 911.”

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There were scattered power outages in small numbers in most Seacoast communities early Thursday morning with Rochester and Kensington among the communities in the hundreds. Most local cities and towns had fewer than 20, and power restoration times were estimated for early in the day.

Power outage tracker: Stay up to date on the latest information

Officials provided the following utility contacts:

  • Eversource: 1-800-662-7764
  • Liberty Utilities : 1-855-349-9455
  • NH Electric Co-op: 1-800-343-6432
  • Unitil: 1-888-301-7700

Buxton makes the following safety recommendations in a press release:

  • Stay informed by signing up for NH Alerts and monitoring National Weather Service radio or broadcast weather reports.
  • Drivers should use extra caution, go slow and be alert for crews clearing debris.
  • Use flashlights, rather than candles, for emergency lighting.
  • Only use a generator that has been wired to the house electrical service by a professional electrician.
  • Never run a generator inside a building or in an enclosed space.

Information: ReadyNH.gov

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21,000 Granite Staters Without Power Due To Blustery Winds

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21,000 Granite Staters Without Power Due To Blustery Winds


CONCORD, NH — Leap Day 2024 started off with a bang in New Hampshire as dropping temperatures and strong wind, with gusts as high as 50 mph, knocked out power to tens of thousands.

Outages were being reported by Eversource, the state’s largest utility, as well as Unitil and the New Hampshire Electric Co-Op.

Eversource reported more than 10,000 customers without power, including significant outages in Barnstead, Loudon, Hooksett, and New Boston, as well as smaller outages in Rye, Nashua, Hollis, Milford, North Hampton, Concord, Weare, Brookline, Dunbarton, Amherst, and Portsmouth. The company does not report restoration times.

At just after 12:30 a.m., more than 1,600 Concord and Epsom residents lost power. More minor outages, about 350, were reported in Unitil communities on the Seacoast, including Atkinson, Hampton, Hampton Falls, Kensington, and Kingston, were reported by the company.

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Restoration times on the Seacoast range from 3 to 7 a.m., while the company reported restoration times for Concord and Epsom between 3 to 5 a.m.

The NHEC reported nearly 9,000 customers without power, including major outages in Sandown, Raymond, Barnstead, Chester, Sunapee, and other Upper Valley and Lakes Region communities. The company does not report restoration times.

Liberty Utilities was not reporting any outages.

Scattered trees, limbs, and wires were down all around the capital region, according to scanner chatter, with fire dispatch reporting alarm activations, too.

The National Weather Service said a wind advisory was in effect through 3 p.m. on Thursday.

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The New Hampshire Patch network will update this post later this morning.

The latest weather conditions can be found on the front page of every Patch.com site in the United States, including the 14 New Hampshire Patch news and community websites covering Amherst, Bedford, Concord, Exeter, Hampton, Londonderry, Manchester, Merrimack, Milford, Nashua, North Hampton, Portsmouth, Salem, Windham, and Across NH. Local weather reports for New Hampshire are posted on Sundays and Thursdays. Alerts are published when needed.

Do you have a news tip? Please email it to tony.schinella@patch.com. View videos on Tony Schinella’s YouTube.com channel or Rumble.com channel. Follow the NH politics Twitter account @NHPatchPolitics for all our campaign coverage.



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Hanging Reported At Homeless Camp On Black Hill Road In Concord: Watch

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Hanging Reported At Homeless Camp On Black Hill Road In Concord: Watch


CONCORD, NH — Concord police are investigating a hanging in the woods off Black Hill Road Wednesday in a homeless camp not far from the old Concord Drive-In.

Around 4:30 p.m., Concord fire and rescue teams were sent to the camps off Manchester Street for a report of a death. Police were sent to The Friendly Kitchen on South Commercial Street and the road after receiving the report. According to dispatch, a staffer at the Kitchen received the information from an anonymous man. The man told them he found a friend hanging near their camp. They told the staffer after finding the body, they walked to the kitchen to report it to someone, according to scanner chatter.

Others also knew of the body, according to the witness, and a possible name was given to the police.

Find out what’s happening in Concordwith free, real-time updates from Patch.

Concord fire and rescue teams arrived first and, after about 10 minutes of attempting to find the body, found the hanging and confirmed the person was dead. Police dispatch were told the person appeared to have been dead for a while.

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A free, 24/7, confidential service can provide people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress or those around them with support, information, and local resources. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Find out what’s happening in Concordwith free, real-time updates from Patch.


An officer went to the Kitchen to speak to the witness while others went to the scene. About an hour later, the officer returned to the Kitchen to watch a security video from the facility.

News 603 posted a video on Facebook of police and firefighters at the scene.

The police evidence technician van is at the scene and a medical examiner has been requested. They are expected to be there sometime before 7:30 p.m.

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The site of the homeless camps and former drive-in property is slated to become housing and mixed-use development, at some point, although the project has been discussed for close to three years. Last fall, the city said there could be around 266 housing units as part of the project, which was in the predevelopment stage. The project is one of about a dozen plans to build more than 3,000 new apartments in the city in the next three to eight years.

There have been several brutal crimes at the site, including a stabbing, assaults, and domestic violence. There have also been brush fires, according to prior reports on Patch.

Do you have a news tip? Please email it to tony.schinella@patch.com. View videos on Tony Schinella’s YouTube.com channel or Rumble.com channel. Follow the NH politics Twitter account @NHPatchPolitics for all our campaign coverage.


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