Rev. Sandra Pontoh of the Maranatha Indonesian UCC Church in Madbury, NH waits to testify against HB 644 at New Hampshire's State House.Photo: AFSC / arnie
Before the NH House Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety even heard from all of the immigrants’ rights activists, law enforcement lobbyists, and business leaders who were waiting to testify against an anti-immigrant bill, committee members voted unanimously to recommend the proposal be killed.
The quick end to the hearing surprised a room full of immigrants’ rights activists, who had expected a difficult fight in a legislature that is led by ultra-conservative members.
HB 644, sponsored by Rep. Rob Huxley (R-Peterborough), included a medley of provisions dealing with law enforcement, denial of bail, denial of public benefits, restrictions on driver licenses, and threats against businesses that employ “unlawful aliens.” But the badly worded bill united immigrants’ rights activists with the state police, the association of police chiefs, criminal defense lawyers, legal services providers, municipal governments, and the state’s biggest business lobby, all of whom called for the bill to be killed. In fact, the bill’s sponsor was the only supporter in the room.
With about a dozen witnesses left to speak, Rep. David Welch, the committee’s former chair, suggested the committee go into executive session to recommend the bill be killed. After a few procedural votes, the committee voted 13 to 0 to recommend the bill be considered “inexpedient to legislate” and be placed on the consent calendar for an upcoming session. In other words, the committee, which like the House as a whole has a 3:1 Republican majority, believes this bill does not even deserve debate on the House floor.
Rather than being upset about losing a chance to testify, the people waiting to speak broke out into applause.
Eva Castillo of the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees expressed satisfaction and relief. “When the session started in January, we feared an attempt to bring Arizona-style immigration enforcement to New Hampshire might get a warm response. We are glad to see the legislature reject the politics of division and hate.”
Opponents of HB 644 included Rep. David Watters, Fred Robinson and Rev. Tom Woodward of the Granite State Organizing Project, Rev. Mary Westfall and Rev. Sandra Pontoh of the United Church of Christ, Katherine Cooper of the NH Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Ana Herrero, Father Joe Gurdack of St. Augustin Church, Judy Elliott of the NH Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, Alejandro Urrutia of the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, Sara Mattson of NH Legal Assistance, and Arnie Alpert and Sylvia Gale from the AFSC.
HB 644 will reach the House floor in March. Castillo will keep her eye on the State House, where a bill regulating use of foreign languages on signs posted in retail stores is still to be considered.