For immigrant constituents, Hassan’s support for Title 42 further cements frustration 


Monitor staff

Published: 01-15-2023 4:14 PM

Grace Kindeke wishes she wouldn’t have to watch Sen. Maggie Hassan talk about immigration policy from a video, with the Senator standing in front of a steel paneled wall in Nogales, Arizona, over 2,000 miles away. She’d like to have these conversations at home in New Hampshire.

But that’s easier said than done.

“Senator Hassan took the time to go to the southern border and make a video and show what she perceives as the real crisis down there and what she thinks is the right thing to do,” said Kindeke, program coordinator of American Friends Service Committee-NH Program. “What was notable about that is that she took the time to go there, but she’s still to this point has not taken the time to meet with immigrant constituents and allied constituents in New Hampshire.”

Hassan has actively worked to keep in place a Trump-era immigration policy that halts entry for asylum seekers as a public health measure called Title 42.

As recently as November, Hassan joined other Senators expressing concern about the end of Title 42, which is set to expire in coming months. Meanwhile, constituents back in New Hampshire continue to be frustrated with Hassan’s support for anti-immigration policy. Sharing these frustrations face-to-face is a challenge on its own.

Kindke is an artist, activist and dancer as well as a community organizer. On Monday, she is being honored Monday by the Martin Luther King Coalition for her commitment to social justice. Speaking to her elected representatives about important public policy like immigration is something she feels compelled to do for her community and her state.

“Oftentimes when we talk about immigration issues, immigration policies, immigrants are very often either scapegoated and seen as an other, sort of like a separate population of people that need to be sort of handled in sort of very, very specific and different ways than the rest of the population,” she said. “Part of the overall narrative is a lack of understanding of how immigrants are woven within our communities, both yourself, or individuals, they themselves are immigrants or come from members of families, or have immigrants in their families.”

End of Title 42

The impending expiration of Title 42 has brought immigration policy back to the forefront of national attention. The order references a U.S. public health code that allows the government to deny asylum seekers on the basis of a public health safety measure.

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It has enabled the federal government to rapidly expel immigrants at the southern border, since former President Donald Trump invoked the act in March 2020.

The order was set to expire on December 21, 2022, until a Supreme Court ruling mandated the order remain in place for at least two more months. The Department of Homeland Security is still planning for the impending expiration, announcing new border security protections to begin the new year.

In April, Hassan supported a bill that called for the end of all pandemic related states of emergencies to end before Title 42 is officially terminated. The federal public health emergency has been renewed a dozen times, most recently on Jan. 10.

“Title 42 was put in place at the beginning of the pandemic, and it makes no sense to end it when the administration continues to keep in place other pandemic restrictions and when it does not yet have a comprehensive plan to handle a steep increase in attempted border crossings that will occur once Title 42 is repealed,” said Hassan in a press release about the legislation.

Congressman Chris Pappas also supported similar legislation in the House, helping to introduce a bill that would prevent the Biden administration from lifting the order without a plan to address migrants at the border.

In November, Hassan, alongside U.S. Senators Mark Kelly, Kyrsten Sinema and Jon Tester, wrote to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sharing their concerns about current plans to end Title 42.

While Hassan cites these concerns in Washington, Kindeke and other constituents in New Hampshire feel the Senator has not taken the time to listen to their perspective.

For Kindeke, the Title 42 order appeared to be intentionally targeted at people of color.

“It was always very clear that it was meant to be a measure that would really cut the flow of immigrants, particularly Black and brown immigrants,” she said. “It was being utilized to keep out Black and brown immigrants more so than it was being utilized to keep out a white immigrants who often were able to get exemptions.”

In 2022, the U.S. Border Patrol dispelled more than 2.2 million people crossing into the United States, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Speaking with the senator

On the eve of the order’s original expiration date in December, Stronger Together, a coalition of activists that Kindeke is involved with, had a message for Hassan – Title 42 needs to come to an end and support for asylum seekers should be reinstated.

To share this, Kindeke and others gathered outside Hassan’s Elm Street office in Manchester on December 20. The group projected messages like “keep families together” onto the brick building, while speakers shared their immigration stories.

This demonstration wasn’t the first time the group has tried to get Hassan’s attention. This was the group’s sixth demonstration against Hassan’s support for Title 42, according to New Hampshire Public Radio.

Hassan was not available for an interview, but her office said she’s spoken at length publicly on Title 42.

Trying to talk to Hassan about immigration in New Hampshire was so fruitless, Kindeke, and others, decided to hit the road.

A trip from New Hampshire to Washington D.C., isn’t as far as Senator Hassan’s trek to the Southern border, but it’s still almost a 500 mile endeavor. When Kindeke and a few other young leaders had ideas for the Congressional Delegation, they made the trip to the nation’s capital, in hopes of sharing their thoughts in person.

This was in 2021, when components of the federal Build Back Better package was in conversation. Kindeke and her coalition wanted to discuss including pathways to citizenship in the proposals.

Yet when trying to secure a meeting with both of New Hampshire’s Senators, the group faced two starkly different responses, said Kindeke.

“[Shaheen] was willing to listen to all of us who had traveled. All of us were all immigrants, immigrants of color, who had traveled to see her and then we got a lot of pushback from Senator Hassan’s office,” said Kindeke. “When we were eventually able to see her, she gave us five minutes in between committee hearings, and wasn’t willing.”

Kindeke said Hassan spent more than half of those precious five minutes talking rather than listening.

Their difficulty in securing a meeting with the Senator indicated to Kindeke, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and has lived in New Hampshire since she was 2-years-old, that talking about immigration with Hassan would be a challenge.

“It just became really clear over time that the frustration was building because Senator Hassan has seemed to have the time and the energy to speak out against ending something that was having such direct harm on her own immigrant constituents, but wasn’t willing to make the time to listen or talk with immigrant constituents,” she said.

Different policy, different approach

Hassan’s hesitation to speak with immigrant constituents is a point of contention Deborah Opramolla. She’s seen firsthand what it is like to work with the Senator on policy. Together, they have advocated for disability rights in the state.

Both Hassan and Opramolla have adult sons who are disabled. But this attention doesn’t translate into other issues, like immigration, said Opramolla.

“I’m very frustrated with her that when it comes to immigration, she’s going after people who look like me. It’s the brown and Black people,” she said. “So that marginalizes me, but it makes me think that we were only standing side by side in the disability community because she needed something.”

Hassan’s desire to work with state leaders like Opramolla, who sits on the New Hampshire Council on Developmental Disabilities, on some policy issues, but not others creates a tension. Hassan shouldn’t be able to pick and choose when she listens, said Opramolla.

“When you serve the people, you have to serve all the people. Instead of finding solutions that are not punishing us, she doesn’t want to hear that. She just thinks punishment is is a great thing,” she said. “I know her and that’s not what she thinks in the disability community.”

Opramolla understands that Hassan is trying to craft a bipartisan image, but that can’t come at the expense of addressing or at least listening to constituents complaints.

“It’s time that you and your staff start addressing immigration in ways that people, a significant community is telling you, and if you say you don’t believe it, so you’re protecting your seat because you need those Republicans, then don’t campaign in my neighborhood,” she said.

These same feelings arise when Kindeke thinks about the messaging of New Hampshire’s first in the nation primary status. Hassan and other state leaders have argued that the state is a diverse place to hold the primary, despite backlash from the Democratic National Committee.

When it is politically convenient, they’ll speak to the strength of immigrant communities here, without listening to the needs of the people who make up these populations, said Kindeke.

“It does just really underscore that our communities are valuable when our politicians, our white politicians need something from us, when they need us to maintain the first in nation status, when they need us to maintain their seats,” she said. “Yet when we call on them and ask them to hear what our community is going through, what our community is struggling with, what the impact of policies like rights of people who are here, who came through the southern border, who have sought asylum and have been able to receive it and are now part of the fabric of our state. It is deeply hypocritical. It’s deeply heartbreaking.”

For Kindeke and Opramolla, an investment to support New Hampshire’s immigrant communities involves spending to support infrastructure like processing centers and establishing a pathway towards citizenship.

These ideas flow through conversations in their communities. Next time, they’d like to include Hassan.

“That’s the power of the people. When we come together we build this table and we say ‘here is possible solution’,” said Opramolla. “She has to be at the table willing to listen, not just to answer the way she thinks things should be done.”