Immigrant Advocates Push Rhode Island to Refuse ‘Secure Communities’

Renee Feltz Jan 10, 2011

Then Governor-Elect Chafee stands with Latino supporters during his 2010 campaign.Even as Rhode Island’s new governor withdrew from a controversial immigration enforcement program last week, the state’s attorney general may enroll in a similar system that has generated mistrust between migrants and police.

“We’re quite concerned that what one public official has given, another is prepared to take away,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island ACLU.

Newly inaugurated Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee met a campaign promise last Wednesday when he rescinded an executive order signed by his predecessor that enrolled the state police in 287(g) and required businesses to check the status of employees through the E-Verify system. Latino voters who helped Chafee win his election looked on and welcomed the move with a standing ovation.

Chafee said the previous order that deputized state police to check immigration status “caused needless anxiety within our Latino community without demonstrating any progress on illegal immigration, an issue I strongly believe must be solved at the federal level.”

Studies documenting the impact of the old order revealed many immigrants had become afraid to leave their houses, while others had moved out of state. The governor said his new executive order encouraged “comprehensive dialogue with our immigrant communities, law enforcement agencies, and all interested parties … to reach a consensus on how best to enforce the law.”

But so far, dialogue with a key decision maker has been limited to protests and unanswered letters.

New Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, a former police captain, supports enrolling the state in “Secure Communities” by the end of January. The program shares arrest data with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) so agents can locate immigrants, transfer them into federal custody and deport them.

In December, Kilmartin joined state and local police for a meeting with ICE officials to discuss Secure Communities. Afterward, he said, “I look forward to signing onto this program as Attorney General – which will help move our state towards a more secure future.”

Immigrant advocates protest in the lobby outside Attorney General Kilmartin's office after he refused to meet with them last Wednesday.

Immigrant advocates protest in the lobby outside Attorney General Kilmartin’s office after he refused to meet with them last Wednesday. Photo provided by Camilo Viveiros.

Immigrant advocates say Kilmartin has since refused their request for their own meeting to discuss the program.

“He is a public servant and in position to protect the public,” said Camilo Viveiros, director of Rhode Island Jobs With Justice. “He needs to be educated so he does not make a unilateral decision that puts our community in danger.”

Viveiros was among dozens of protesters who gathered in the lobby of Kilmartin’s office last Wednesday. He said Secure Communities has failed to meet its mandate of deporting dangerous criminals, and instead targeted “victims of a broken immigration policy that doesn’t allow a path to citizenship.”

In December Viveiros signed a letter to Kilmartin from several immigrant and civil rights groups that attempted to set the record straight on whether the program is voluntary.

In suggesting that the harm flowing from the S-Comm program can be mitigated, you have been quoted as saying that local police departments in Rhode Island can opt out of participation,” reads the letter. “Unfortunately, there is substantial evidence that this is incorrect.”

The letter urges Kilmartin to “make clear that those fingerprints coming from “opt-out” police departments are appropriately tagged so that the FBI would be apprised to run those fingerprints only through their usual criminal databases, not the immigration databases that are at the heart of this controversy.”

It also suggests Kilmartin add provisions to the Secure Communities agreement that limit the state to sharing arrest data of persons arrested for Level 1 crimes, and to complying with “holds” that ICE requests for Level 1 offenders. Nationwide, the program has targeted mostly Level 2 and 3 offenders, as well people ICE refers to as “non-criminals.”

While the letters were addressed to Kilmartin and Chafee, a different official may actually be responsible for signing the Secure Communities agreement with ICE. Rhode Island State Police Superintendent Brendan P. Doherty signed the now invalid 287(g) agreement with ICE in October 2009, and agreements in other states have been signed by similar officials in charge of their state’s criminal justice information systems.

The state’s former 287(g) participation resulted in the deportation of 12 immigrants during the 2009 fiscal year, according to ICE.

In 2007, the state chapter of the ACLU filed a lawsuit against Rhode Island State Police for illegally detaining 14 Guatemalan immigrants after a traffic stop. The incident occurred when an officer stopped a van for changing lanes without using a turn signal. He confirmed the license and registration of the driver were valid, but then asked all of the passengers to provide identification and proof of U.S. citizenship. When they were unable to do so he said he would escort them to ICE, and threatened to shoot anyone who tried to escape.

For now, Rhode Island remains free from any agreement with federal immigration authorities to share arrest data. But Doherty said state police “will still communicate and cooperate with ICE in matters of mutual concern.

Newly-elected mayor of Providence, Angel Taveras, could become the first city to try to refuse participation in Secure Communities if the state joins the program.

This article was originally published on

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