During Thursday night’s debate over a ban on sanctuary cities, state Sen. Becky Whitley (D-Hopkinton) insisted the legislation isn’t needed because New Hampshire doesn’t have an illegal immigrant problem. It has a labor shortage.

But when asked by a Republican colleague if that meant she would support Granite State businesses hiring illegal aliens, Whitley — who’s also a candidate in the Democratic primary in the Second Congressional District — declined to answer.

Senate Democrats once again voted unanimously against the bill banning sanctuary cities, which passed there 14-10. That vote came a day after the new NHJournal/Praecones Analytica poll found Granite Staters overwhelmingly oppose sanctuary cities, 56 to 19 percent.

Republicans point to the surge of illegal crossings in the northern border sector that includes New Hampshire — more apprehensions in April than in 2021 and 2022 combined — along with the ongoing migrant crisis next door in Massachusetts.

Whitley rejected the idea that New Hampshire needs a sanctuary cities ban.

“We do not have a problem with illegal immigration in New Hampshire. We just don’t,” Whitley said.

“Why are you letting this national rhetoric invade our state?” she asked her Republican colleagues. “All you’re doing is promoting bias and suspicion for our [immigrant] communities. We should instead be celebrating these communities, welcome them into New Hampshire. We have way more jobs than we had to have people. Mr. President, we don’t have enough people to fill our jobs.”

Whitley also appeared to echo Republican criticism of how Massachusetts and its Gov. Maura Healey are handling the influx of migrants, suggesting the Bay State’s generous benefits are drawing immigrants.

“We do not have floods of people coming into New Hampshire. You know why? Because we don’t have anything to offer them,” Whitley said. “What we have seen happen in Massachusetts. They have different laws there that require them to provide aid. They have more resources to offer. We don’t have that in New Hampshire. So we don’t have that problem.”

But it was Whitley’s repeated references to the state’s labor shortages as a reason to oppose the ban on sanctuary cities that provoked a response.

“So if I understand your answer correctly, you support employers being able to hire illegal immigrants?” asked Sen. Daryl Abbas (R- Salem).

Whitely evaded the question.

“I support our state being a welcoming place where people can come here to work and start a family. That’s what I support I support our law enforcement that saying that this bill, which is just politically motivated, is going to make our communities unsafe,” Whitley said.

Abbas tried again.

“This is a yes or no question: Are you supportive of employers in New Hampshire being allowed to hire and employ illegal immigrants?”

Whitley dismissed it as an “unrelated question.”

“Senator, this bill is a sanctuary cities bill. And I do not support this bill because law enforcement says that it will make our communities unsafe. [Your question] has nothing to do with the bill.”

Whitley is widely viewed as the most progressive of the three Democrats running to replace outgoing Rep. Annie Kuster. Biden administration official and D.C. insider Maggie Goodlander recently jumped into the race. Failed 2016 gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern has been endorsed by Kuster.

The best-known Republicans, Vikram Mansharamani and Lily Tang Williams, both oppose sanctuary cities and support tougher measures to stop illegal immigration.

Polls consistently show border security is a top concern of voters nationally and in New Hampshire.