On January 5, 2011 Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) passed an executive order terminating previous governor Donald Carcieri’s (R) Illegal Immigration Control Order. The executive order, passed in March of 2008, entered Rhode Island State police into an agreement of cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This agreement mandates that all local law enforcement officers receive training from ICE to enforce federal immigration laws and investigate immigration status of all persons “[in] custody, incarcerated, or being investigated for a crime.”
A week after the executive order, newly elected Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin signed a memorandum of agreement with the Department of Homeland Security, authorizing Rhode Island Police Department’s participation in Secure Communities—an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) initiative requiring all law enforcement officers to run arrestees’ fingerprints against FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) databases. If the arrestee is undocumented, the program mandates that the deportation process should begin within 48 hours.
After Kilmartin signed the memorandum of agreement authorizing Secure Communities, Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Pare and Providence mayor Angel Taveras both expressed their opposition to the program. In February, Pare wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security asking if there was a way for Providence to opt out of the program; he cited “fear and mistrust between the [immigrant] community and law enforcement”.
State Police Colonel Brendan E. Doherty, published an independent press release vocalizing his support for continued participation in Secure Communities. In it, he criticized Providence’s desire to opt out, and called it “…dangerous and irresponsible.”
A rebuttal came from Governor Chafee, who chastised Doherty for speaking out in favor of the program before the Chafee administration had formulated its own position. Though Chafee expressed support for Secure Communities in December, he grew unsure of his stance after Kilmartin signed the memorandum of agreement in January. A week after Chafee’s response, Doherty abruptly announced his retirement and denied that the immigration showdown played a role in his stepping down. Doherty is now raising funds to run in the Republican 1st congressional district’s primary. According to his website, his stance on Secure Communities is unchanged— “Criminal aliens and illegal reentries should be removed from this country.”
Secure Communities went into effect in Rhode Island on March 7. The Providence Journal reported that Governor Chafee announced his support for S Secure Communities on March 22.
Since the program’s implementation, 28 people have been deported from Rhode Island, and 100 people have been retained in ICE custody. However, only 42 of the 100 were criminals that had been convicted of ‘aggravate felonies’—defined in the Immigration and Neutrality Act of 1952 as murder, rape and drug trafficking among other serious offenses.
In August, the American Immigration Lawyers of America released a report stating that, “through Secure Communities… Local Law Enforcement Agencies rerefer cases to ICE and CBP who do not present any threat to public safety or national security” and that in many cases those deported have lived in the United States for, “over a decade or had deep ties to the community, including family members who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents who depend on them for care and support.”
The report reveals that of the 200 cases reviewed, “[s]ixty-six cases involve[d] people who were placed in removal proceedings after being arrested or cited for
minor traffic violations” including a broken brake light.
From Arizona to Rhode Island
In April 2010 Arizona passed bill 1070, a measure requiring routine checks of immigration status for anyone arrested by local law enforcement. Arizona bill 1070—unlike Secure Communities—required officers to arrest people if they were simply suspected of being undocumented immigrants. The New York Times called it “the nation’s toughest law on immigration.” US District Judge Susan Bolton issued an injunction after concerns over racial profiling. Arizona appealed, and the law remains in limbo.
Following Arizona, 24 states introduced similar legislation, including Rhode Island. In May 2010, RI State Rep. Peter Palumbo, (D) and Rep. Joseph A. Trillo, (R) introduced H 4182, which copied most of the Arizona measure, including its central provision to arrest under “reasonable suspicion.” Trillo is quoted on Palumbo’s website as saying, “Law enforcement can more effectively combat criminal activity related to illegal immigrants if federal, state and local authorities work on a cooperative basis.”
The bill was introduced four days after the deadline, and House Speaker Gordon Fox (D) canceled the hearing on the bill. Fox declined to comment when asked by The Providence Journal, but Larry Berman, spokesman for the House of Representatives said, “The Speaker opposes this and feels it’s better addressed federally.”
Obama and Federal Immigration Policy
Deportations have noticeably increased under the Obama administration. When questioned about deportation policies by a student during a town hall event in Washington, D.C. in March, Obama said, “We have redesigned our enforcement practices under the law to make sure that we’re focusing primarily on criminals…”
ICE reports a “71% increase in the overall percentage of convicted criminals removed” between the Bush and Obama administrations. According to the DHS website, “[A]n alien with an appropriate criminal conviction is considered a criminal alien regardless of the section of law under which the alien was removed.”
After the Arizona law, the administration found a new outlet to employ its stance on illegal immigration with Secure Communities. It has become the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s immigration policy. According to an ICE presentation, to participate in the program, states must enter into a memorandum of agreement with ICE that defines terms and conditions, including the “scope of authority and immigration enforcement activities”.
According to ICE, half of all jurisdictions in the United States and its territories have now activated Secure Communities. The Obama administration plans for nationwide implementation of the program will take effect by 2013.
Support and Enforcement
According to a poll conducted by Brown University in March, 55 percent of Rhode Islanders, “believe that police should be able to check the citizenship and immigration status of all people, including citizens.”
Last Wednesday, ICE conducted a raid in conjunction with local law enforcement agencies nationwide. ICE officials worked with local law enforcement to track down and make the arrests, and all, “individuals taken into custody had prior criminal convictions.” According to ICE, the raid, named “Cross-Check” was the “largest of its kind” and resulted in arrests of 2,901 undocumented immigrants from all 50 states, 1,600 of which had prior felony convictions.
In an interview with this newspaper, Terry Gorman, the executive director of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement (RIILE), said his organization received “hundreds of e-mails” following last Wednesday’s immigration raid from major news organizations about RIILE’s stance on immigration law enforcement.
For his part, Gorman condones the Obama administration’s approach to undocumented immigrants. Gorman feels that there is a “silent majority” in RI that would, “like to see the current laws enforced.” He voiced support for immigrant communities and immigration, but he claims that by definition undocumented immigrants are breaking the law by being here.
He explains, “If you or I [were] arrested, we’[d] be prosecuted for breaking the law, and that should apply to undocumented immigrants as well.” He supports uniform law enforcement across all races, and dismisses racial profiling concerns under Secure Communities by saying, “Any evidence of that should be prosecuted.”
Criticism and Distrust
Most criticism of Secure Communities centers on the issues of racial profiling and generating mistrust between immigrant communities and law enforcement. In the DHS Taskforce on Secure Communities Findings and Recommendations report released in September, the task force “recommend[s] suspension of the program until major changes are made, or even recommend[s] termination of what they believe is a fundamentally flawed program.” The report says, “ICE must recognize that it does not work in a vacuum and that its enforcement actions impact other agencies and the relationships with their communities in what some may conclude is a negative way.” Five members of the 20-member task force chose to resign rather than endorse the final report.
Victoria Ruiz, and organizer at the Olneyville Neighborhood Association (ONA) points to the resignations as evidence of the program’s inefficiency and the fact that “[Secure Communities] marks immigrants guilty until proven innocent.” She says that most of the stories her organization hears confirm these criticisms. Ceasar, 49, an undocumented restaurant worker in RI, Ruiz translates his response to how Secure Communities has affected the immigrant population as, “[it] only makes us distrust public law enforcement. Which makes everyone less safe.”
Ruiz explains that with the Federal government it’s hard to find a point of attack, so the focus has been education. It’s difficult because Rhode Island only has two congressional representatives, so they don’t have a lot of voting power. She says they don’t schedule meetings, they demand them, and during these meetings they completely fill the room in order to ensure the representatives know that, “[the] community is demanding to have this conversation”.
ONA views immigration as a local and national issue. Nationally, they work with the National Day Laborers, and locally in conjunction with Direct Action for Rights and Equality and the American Friends Service Committee. She explains that working with a coalition “builds power to run against targets”, like police departments and the attorney general. The coalition also works towards education, and using community lines to monitor people’s experiences with police.
“Immigration is not a crime,” says Ruiz.