When Democrats had a majority in the New Hampshire House in 2019, they used it to overwhelmingly (204-137) pass legislation to allow illegal immigrants to obtain New Hampshire driver’s licenses.
Today, the House has a narrow GOP majority, but Democrats haven’t given up. On Tuesday, they backed another driver’s license bill and attacked a GOP effort to ban “sanctuary cities” in the Granite State.
The divide between the two parties couldn’t be starker.
“New Hampshire is a land of law and order, but if HB374 passes, we send the message that it is completely acceptable for people to break some of our laws, including our immigration laws, but not others,” said House Transportation Chairman Thomas Walsh (R-Hooksett).
“This is a bill about public safety,” said Rep. George Sykes (D-Lebanon) the bill’s lead sponsor, during the Transportation Committee’s Tuesday meeting. “These folks are living here, paying taxes, working to take care of their families, and in a state like ours with very little public transportation, they are driving.”
The bill would “prohibit the department of transportation from disclosing any record that identifies whether the type of driver’s license that a person holds meets federal standards for identification,” such as the federal REAL ID act. Illegal immigrants can’t meet the requirements to receive these secure documents.
It would also “prohibit motor vehicle information from being shared with federal immigration enforcement agencies conducting civil investigations.”
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, says the legislation is a mistake.
“These proposed standards would violate the federal REAL ID Act that was passed in 2004 after 13 terrorists used 30-some state licenses to hide their identity and immigration status while plotting their infamous terror attack on 9/11,” Vaughan told NHJournal. “Unfortunately, the Biden administration has moved to postpone enforcement of REAL ID until 2025, shielding the states who pass these bad laws from any consequences.
“This bill is a terrible idea that will trash the credibility of your state’s licenses and force law enforcement agencies, banks, landlords, and businesses to accept these documents, even though they will not be worth the plastic they’re laminated in.”
Walsh told the committee he did not understand the premise of the bill.
“In my years as a representative, we have seen this bill multiple times and it still fails to make sense. In accordance with the law, you can have your license taken away for many reasons, but if HB374 passes, we send the message that it is completely acceptable for people to break some of our laws, including our immigration laws, but not others,” Walsh said.
But Sen. David Watters (D-Dover), another sponsor of the bill, defends it as a proposal to defend privacy.
“The enforcement of Federal immigration laws is rightly undertaken by Federal authorities,” Watters told NHJournal. “New Hampshire has a strong commitment to protecting privacy related to driver’s licenses, so this bill protects that privacy for those the state determines eligibility for a state driver’s license.”
The committee voted the bill, HB374, inexpedient to legislate on a vote of 11-9.
Democrats are also defending the “sanctuary city” movement, opposing a bill (SB132) prohibiting local communities from instituting such policies.
“Over the last two years, we’ve witnessed how disastrous border policies cause disreputable harm to towns and cities across the United States – I refuse to see that occur in our home stated,” said Bill Gannon (R-Sandown), the bill’s prime sponsor.
“SB132 prevents Granite State cities and towns from adopting dangerous sanctuary policies that allow unknown, immigrants free access to our local communities. With little oversight as to how these individuals assimilate into the country, it’s clear the consideration for citizens is minimal – SB132 is a safeguard in that regard. Especially knowing some arrive with good intentions, but others pose an immediate threat to the families within our state.”
Progressive Democrat Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka (D-Portsmouth) accused the bill’s backers of bigotry.
“SB 132 seeks to bring anti-immigrant, extremist rhetoric seen nationally to New Hampshire. This legislation would take away local control from our cities and towns to make decisions as it relates to their local law enforcement officers. Many of our local police departments recognize the danger of this type of legislation and oppose the bill. The disparagement seen in this bill of people who are simply seeking a better life comes from misinformation and groups that are trying to dictate our policies here in New Hampshire,” Perkins Kwoka said.
The reputation of the “sanctuary city” movement suffered a major blow when several of them balked at the arrival of illegal immigrants sent from Texas and Florida. New York, Washington, D.C., and the three largest communities on Martha’s Vineyard all declared themselves “sanctuary cities” in the past. And yet they all complained loudly about the arrival of just a few of the more than six million unlawful migrants who’ve crossed the border since President Joe Biden took office.
The anti-sanctuary-city legislation would ban policies that limit or discourage communicating or cooperating with federal agencies or officials to verify or report the immigration status of any alien,” or “restricts in any way cooperation or compliance with immigration detainers.”
Vaughan says the GOP-backed legislation is a good move.
“The bill would ensure that if we ever again have a federal government that enforces immigration laws, then jurisdictions in New Hampshire would not be able to thwart that. It’s a good idea for the legislature to communicate that localities should not even think of enacting sanctuary policies, and that local law enforcement agencies who cooperate with ICE have the support of the state government, as they should.”