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Friday, April 27, 2012

Hudson looks to mend fences with Latino community

HUDSON – The Board of Selectmen wants to mend fences with the Latino community.

Board members will meet with the state’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, along with local law enforcement, on Monday, April 30, to discuss their commitment to the fair treatment of all residents.

Chairman Roger Coutu said he hopes community members will attend and participate in the discussion.

Coutu said the board has been trying to set up such a meeting since last year, when the president of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, Enrique Mesa Jr., was quoted criticizing the town and how it treats local Latinos.

The issue dates back to 2005, when Hudson Police Chief Richard Gendron charged several sets of Latin American immigrants with trespassing after they were found during traffic stops. At the time, Hudson police were using a state law to enforce federal immigration policy and charged at least 10 immigrants with trespassing.

Coutu said Thursday, however, that while there have been concerns from residents about the town not being friendly toward Latinos, it is an issue of the past.

“I took a serious exception to it,” Coutu said. “We feel as though Hudson is very welcoming. If I had a sense that the police department was targeting anyone … heads would roll … I wouldn’t live in a community like that.”

The meeting will be open to the public and will start 10 a.m. in the Buxton Community Development Meeting Room at Town Hall, 12 School St.

Mesa said Thursday that he did not mean to criticize the entire town with his comments last year, but was trying to comment on a stigma of local town officials of being unfair to Latinos.

“Unfortunately, there were some past officials that were not kind to the Latino community,” Mesa said, adding that he is not sure how conditions in the town have changed. “When we go to this meeting, I hope they show me wrong. We’ve heard in the past of issues, and we just want to get the story straight.”

The town does have a history of conflict between town officials, local law enforcement and the Latino community.

In 2007, a “memorandum of agreement” was reached between federal immigration and Custom Enforcement authorities and the town, which deputized Hudson police officers as quasi-immigration agents. That agreement is no longer in place.

At a July 2011 selectmen’s meeting, one resident told the board that she no longer was proud of her community because of what she saw as discrimination against Latinos.

Another resident, Alejandro Urrutia, who also serves on the state Latino Commission, supported the town at that meeting.

“I am Latino and I’ve been living here for 22 years, and personally, I have never had any problems with anybody,” Urrutia said last summer. “I’ve never been discriminated, and I’ve been treated fairly by police.”

Coutu said Thursday that he believes this is the case for the majority of the local Latino community and said he hopes the meeting with the state Latino Commission can help the commission and the community see the town’s commitment to all residents.

“I hope to mend fences (with the commission),” he said. “I’m looking for a very positive outcome.”

He said the meeting also will likely involve a discussion of setting up a Latino festival in town this year or next year to honor the heritage of its many Latino residents.

“We want people to know that this community does not discriminate,” Coutu said. “We are a very welcoming community, and I’ve never seen it as anything but.”

Mesa said he is happy the town asked to meet with Latino Commission members, and said he hopes the commission can act as a mediator between town officials and the local Latino community and solve any conflicts there may be.

“If there is any stigma remaining, I hope that we can bridge that gap, clear it up and just work together,” he said. “We just want the voice of the Latino community, wherever they live, to be heard, and I’m really happy that the town officials of Hudson are willing to speak with us.”

Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashuatelegraph.com.