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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Hudson Selectman Roger Coutu shakes hands with Latino community representatives following the meeting at town hall Monday, April 30, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Enrique Mesa speaks at a special meeting to discuss relations between the town of Hudson and Latinos Monday, April 30, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Hudson selectman Roger Coutu presides over the meeting at town hall Monday, April 30, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Latino community representatives listen from the front row during the meeting at Hudson town hall Monday, April 30, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Hudson Police Chief Jason Lavoie was on hand with other officers to discuss the department's perspective during the meeting at town hall Monday, April 30, 2012.
Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hudson selectmen, Latino commission vow to improve relations

HUDSON – A handshake Monday between selectmen’s Chairman Roger Coutu and Enrique Mesa, president of the state Latino Commission, was more than a friendly greeting; it was a symbol of their agreement to work together and reach out to the local Latino community.

The agreement came at the end of a special meeting between the board and several members of the commission, which was called after Mesa was quoted last year criticizing the town and how it treats local Latinos.

Coutu said last week that he took “serious exception” to Mesa’s comments and wanted to mend fences with the commission and the community. Monday’s meeting seemed to be a step forward, as board members, commissioners and local emergency personnel shared their thoughts and agreed many of the problems were based on misunderstandings and misinformation, not bias or discrimination.

Mesa said he had come to the meeting hoping to find himself proved wrong about the town.

“I’m really glad that I came to talk with the board here, and I can say that I was wrong for my comments,” Mesa said Monday. “It’s misrepresentation that causes this perception in the community, and I’m glad we’re addressing it today.”

Not on the table for discussion, however, were controversial actions taken by the Police Department several years ago to enforce illegal immigration locally.

“We’re here to discuss Mesa’s comments, which implied that we are not a welcome community to those Latinos,” Coutu said. “This is the only issue we wish to have on the table.”

There is a history of issues between the town and local Latinos, including arrests made in 2005, when several Latin American immigrants were charged with trespassing after they were found during traffic stops. A district court judge ruled the trespassing charges unconstitutional in August 2005.

Police Chief Jason Lavoie said that as soon as he heard about uneasiness among the local Latino community toward law enforcement, he began working to improve the department’s relationship with the group.

“We were concerned they would be afraid to come to us with their problems,” he said.

Local officers go through bias training, Lavoie added, explaining that past programs that caused concerns among local Latinos never targeted innocent immigrants.

The town’s agreement with the federal immigration department was only enacted during the course of a criminal investigation of an individual, he said.

In addition, Lavoie said, the program allowed the department to get temporary visas for victims of crimes in the community.

Commission members thanked the Police Department for the explanations and shared ideas for ways the community could improve their relationship with local immigrants.

Latino Commission member Alejandro Urrutia, a Hudson resident, hopes the meeting will help end the perception of the community as being unfriendly toward immigrants.

“It is the responsibility of all of us to at this moment turn the page,” he said. “We can talk about things that happened five years ago, but that is not the point. The point is what can we do now to be sure people know that this is a welcoming community.”

Urrutia said he does not want undocumented immigrants to avoid calling the police to report a crime because they are afraid of being deported.

Another commission member, Eva Castillo, who also works as an immigrant advocate in the state, echoed Urrutia’s thoughts and told local law enforcement that, unfortunately, many immigrants do fear police.

“In many of our countries, police is not a dignified profession like it is here,” she said. “That is the position we come here from. We fear officers, fear the law.”

Local law enforcement shared their side of the issue Monday, telling commissioners that discrimination has never been and will never be accepted within the department and that officers do the best they can to work with all community members.

Castillo said she works with the Manchester Police Department on a monthly basis to meet with the city’s immigrant community and share concerns they may have. The meetings have helped both police and immigrants better understand each other, she said.

The commission offered to work with the town to hold similar meetings locally, and selectmen and police agreed to look into doing more to communicate with local immigrants.

Coutu said he hopes that going forward, the town can have a more open dialogue with commission members and the local Latino community.

“I am satisfied that our Police Department, our public safety agencies, our municipal workers in this building … ensure that each and every single person is treated fairly and adequately,” he said. “We will tolerate nothing less.”

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