The surge in illegal immigration and the chaos at America’s southern border under President Joe Biden was already a hot topic in New Hampshire politics, with Republican gubernatorial candidate Kelly Ayotte targeting Democrats over their support for sanctuary community policies.

Then came news from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that a mass murderer who evaded justice in Brazil and came to the U.S. was captured in the seacoast community of Rye, N.H. According to Brazilian media reports, Vidal Filho has lived in the United States since 2019, when he deserted the Military Police and fled prosecution.

“On Aug. 14, Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Boston arrested a former Brazilian military police officer in Rye, New Hampshire, who was convicted of multiple murders and sentenced to more than 200 years in prison for his part in a 2015 Brazilian massacre,” according to the ICE report.

“Antonio Jose De Abreu Vidal Filho, 29 … was convicted of 11 murders and sentenced to 275 years and eleven months in prison in June 2023,” ICE said, in a crime that came to be known as the “Curio Massacre.”

“He will remain in ICE custody pending a hearing before a federal immigration judge,” ICE reported.

The two Democrats running for governor, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, were already under fire from Republicans over their long-standing opposition to immigration law enforcement and support for so-called “sanctuary cities.” Hours before the news of Vidal Filho’s arrest, for example, Ayotte’s campaign sent a press release criticizing Craig’s pro-sanctuary city stance.

“Like her Massachusetts Mentor Maura Healey, Joyce Craig has supported radical immigration policies like sanctuary cities, which have now left Massachusetts in a declared state of emergency,” Ayotte’s statement read. “Our neighbors are being forced to pay millions for services for illegal immigrants, and they are even being asked to house illegals in their private homes.

“New Hampshire residents deserve to know: Does Joyce Craig still support these disastrous sanctuary policies after the damage caused in Massachusetts?”

The release also included links to news stories about Craig’s opposition to a ban on sanctuary city policies.

Gov. Healey is also a sanctuary community supporter. She made headlines when responding to migrants coming from the U.S.-Mexico border to Massachusetts she demanded federal action and urged Bay State residents to voluntarily take the undocumented migrants into their homes.

After news broke about Vidal Filho’s apprehension, Ayotte spoke out again.

“How does a criminal convicted of 11 murders in Brazil make his way to Rye, N.H.? This is totally unacceptable,” Ayotte told NHJournal. “Joe Biden has been negligent in securing our country’s borders. If it were not for the great work of our local law enforcement, this monster would be allowed to roam free in our state.

“When I am governor, I will use every tool possible to keep New Hampshire safe, and like when I was attorney general, I will demand dangerous criminals are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Not to be left out, former state Senate President Chuck Morse also released a statement responding to the news.

“Unacceptable headlines like this have no place in our Granite State,” Morse said. “As governor, my unwavering commitment lies in safeguarding our children, neighbors, and communities against the dangers posed by dangerous cartels. Together, we will build a stronger, more secure New Hampshire.”

Both Craig and Warmington declined to answer questions about their immigration policy positions or the capture of the Brazilian murderer in Rye. However, in a statement published by the Boston Herald, Craig dismissed the notion that immigration is a serious concern, instead describing Ayotte’s criticisms as a “tired partisan political attack.”

According to a newly-released poll from the Manhattan Institute, 71 percent of New Hampshire Republicans view illegal immigration and the problems at the southern border as a “critical threat.”

Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies said they are right.

“New Hampshire is not immune to the effects of the Biden administration’s disastrous open border policies,” Vaughan said. “To the extent that New Hampshire lawmakers stick to policies that deter illegal settlement, they can minimize the inflow, though there still will be spillover problems from Massachusetts and Maine.

“But some of the worst characters, like genocidal war criminals, mass murderers, and fentanyl traffickers, will continue to try to fly under the radar in New Hampshire, so state and local leaders should make sure not to create conditions that enable them to escape detection.”

Democratic support for sanctuary communities in New Hampshire is strong. In March, state Senate Democrats voted unanimously against a bill banning sanctuary communities, linking the issue to “white supremacy.”

“This bill shows New Hampshire is not immune to the rise in hate speech,” said Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka (D-Portsmouth), adding that she saw someone from the Federation for American Immigration Reform in one hearing, a group she claimed “has ties to the rhetoric of white supremacy.”

“The reality is that SB 132 is dangerous to our country; it’s dangerous to our democracy. It forces communities to target certain groups of people,” Perkins-Kwoka said.


EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that Vidal Filho had escaped from jail in Brazil to flee to the U.S.  We regret the error.