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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Refugee moratorium bill hits road block in Senate

CONCORD – A move to let 13 cities and towns, including Nashua, block new refugees for one year effectively died in the state Senate on Wednesday.

By a voice vote, the Senate kicked the House-passed bill, HB 1405, off to study, which means supporters will have to regroup with a new bill before a newly elected Legislature and new governor in 2013.

Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, said it’s unfair that Manchester, which is in his district, took in 61 percent of the refugees who came to New Hampshire during the decade ending in 2010.

Boutin said a refugee “timeout” would force social service organizations to communicate better with Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, who has been a prime mover for the bill.

“I do think it will make a difference,” Boutin said.

Sen. Jack Barnes, R-Raymond, said private talks began last week to foster better communication with the parties.

To emphasize the point, Barnes read a letter from the chief executive of the International Institute of New Hampshire, which made seven commitments to improve.

The promises included limiting refugees in Manchester to 200 over the next 15 months and to only those who are relatives of refugees who settled there earlier.

“The fact of the matter is lack of communication has been a huge part of the problem,” Barnes said.

Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen, of Concord, said the message of passing such a bill would be seen as an attack on foreign-born citizens.

“One of the biggest fears is this bill, like a bill to study illegal immigration, I am afraid, turns refugees into scapegoats,” Larsen said.

Refugees from the Sudan, Somalia and Bhutan testified against the measure, saying it would have a chilling effect on their trying to get family members to join them in New Hampshire.

Other critics said federal grants totaling $2.5 million a year currently support services for refugees, such as job training, child care and transportation.

A moratorium would block any of that money coming to the state, they said.

Further, a refugee would be forced to come to this country through another state, but would be free to move to New Hampshire without the federal support.

Constitutional law experts said the bill wouldn’t survive a court challenge because it denies rights to a specific group, violates a right of travel and would be pre-empted by federal law.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@KLandrigan).