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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Hudson, Latinos seek fresh start

Telegraph Editorial

The Hudson Board of Selectmen should be commended for hosting a special meeting with members of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs on Monday to dispel the notion that the community is not a welcoming place for Latinos.

The meeting was prompted by some disparaging public comments made last year by Enrique Mesa Jr., the president of the commission, that Hudson is not a friendly place for immigrants.

Predictably, that didn’t sit well with selectmen’s Chairman Roger Coutu, who said he and the board had been trying to set up a meeting since last year to assure Mesa that nothing could be further from the truth.

And judging by Mesa’s comments at the meeting, it appears Hudson officials made a persuasive argument.

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

Still, while Coutu made it clear he wanted to keep the meeting focused on Mesa’s comments, it is certainly understandable why that perception may have emerged in the first place. Consider:

In 2005, then-Hudson Police Chief Richard Gendron, citing his impatience with federal immigration enforcement, followed the lead of his counterpart in New Ipswich in charging illegal immigrants with criminal trespassing – and generating national headlines for Hudson in the process.

All told, about a dozen individuals were charged with trespassing, but the charges ultimately were thrown out after a district court judge ruled the use of the state’s trespassing law was unconstitutional, since the federal government has jurisdiction over immigration law and its corresponding penalties.

Two years later, the Police Department signed a memorandum of agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to train several Hudson officers to work with federal immigration officials.

The 287(g) program, essentially a partnership with ICE in which local departments are delegated authority for immigration enforcement in their communities, was terminated in the fall of 2010 “for not meeting the goals of the department and ICE,” according to an ICE spokesman in Boston.

Perhaps most detrimental to the image of the community was a byproduct of the first decision – that so-called “white pride” groups concluded Hudson was fertile territory for their message of intolerance.

Nearly every year since 2006, then, North East White Pride has chosen Hudson to stage an annual demonstration to protest illegal immigration.

While participants are usually well outnumbered by counterprotesters from within the community – certainly a more accurate reflection of what this town is truly about – it is not uncommon for the group’s website to mention the department’s arrest of illegal immigrants on trespassing charges in announcing the rallies.

We can understand why Coutu didn’t want to dwell on this history during Monday’s meeting, but it’s important to recognize that the perception of Hudson not being a welcoming community for Latinos didn’t occur in a vacuum. Actions have consequences.

Hopefully, thanks to the initiative shown by Coutu and his fellow selectmen this week – coupled with a commitment to work more closely with the Latino community going forward – that perception will soon be relegated to history.