New Hampshire

Nashua Police offer traffic safety classes

Michelle Pegas came to the United States four years ago. He says he has a passion for New Hampshire, its government and its institutions. When he learned that the Nashua Police Department was offering a road safety course, he and his wife quickly signed up.

“I want to help others learn about New Hampshire law,” he said.

Pegas was one of about 30 local Brazilians who attended the course at the Arlington Community Center this Saturday to learn more about the work of the police in their community.

This weekend’s class is part of a pilot program by the Nashua Police Department created to include low-income, elderly, immigrant, youth and hearing-impaired populations. The agency is using a $20,000 grant from the New Hampshire Department of Safety for this effort.

To find potential participants for this weekend’s class, police have partnered with Nashua’s Department of Public Health and Community Services, relying mostly on word of mouth. Lisa Vasques, who works as a behavioral health strategist at the department, says they have created other social spaces, such as a monthly meeting at the center.

“We trust the authorities by building a community,” she told the group on Saturday.

To ensure classes were accessible to those who didn’t speak English, the city brought in a Portuguese and a Spanish interpreter. Officer Eliandro Hidalgo said this type of language access is important for building trust in the community.

“[Immigrants] will trust someone who speaks Spanish more,” said Hidalgo, who is from the Dominican Republic. “They need someone who understands them and makes them feel safe.”

Nashua Police Officer Kevin Pucillo, who conducted this weekend’s class, said the department currently has five immigrant officers out of a total of 164.

Pucillo said the department heard from people who were concerned about how police officers would react if they didn’t have immigration documents and therefore no driver’s license. Some participants in the Saturday course said many people were afraid of deportation.

“We will not take these enforcement actions [deportation]’ Pucillo said. “That’s not our priority.”

Local immigration advocates have commended police efforts in Nashua and Manchester to take a more collaborative approach when dealing with undocumented migrants. They said the agencies took the time to understand the concerns of local immigrants and lawyers.

Another participant, Aguinaldo Sandana, said he drove without a license for two years before becoming a US citizen. He hopes New Hampshire will pass a law similar to Massachusetts’s that would give undocumented immigrants a route to driver’s licenses. This law is scheduled to come into force in July.

“I used to be scared of the police, so I worry about the people who experience that on a daily basis,” Sandana said.

In New Hampshire, lawmakers considered three proposals for undocumented driver’s licenses last year, but none of those measures passed. Democratic MP Georges Sykes is again sponsoring a similar proposal this term.

Mara Lessard, who works for Nashua’s public health department, said many people miss important appointments because they don’t have IDs. She encouraged the community to work together and voice their opinions on the issue at the State House.

“People might not understand it, but it’s a huge benefit to the community,” she said.

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