“We need change, protection and support,” said Javier Juarez, at the ACLU of Rhode Island office, “So that one day we can contribute to the economy, and make the ocean state a more competitive and diverse state, that does not only follow but leads the progressive movement of undocumented people that call this country their own.”
Juarez, a DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals) student who is graduating from Rhode Island College this week, joined with the ACLU, and 12 other organizations that regularly interact with Rhode Island’s immigrant community, to send letters to Governor Gina Raimondo, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and Rhode Island Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Suttell asking them to take actions to help protect Rhode Island’s immigrants.
Juarez is the first person in his family to graduate from college. He explained how he was able to finish college only because of the state’s in-state tuition policy for people like himself, emphasizing the importance of state officials taking strong stands to support immigrants. He also spoke of the fear and anxiety he dealt with being in this country from Peru since the age of 10 without having documented status.
The letter to Governor Raimondo asked her to issue executive orders:
- Limiting the Rhode Island State Police from stopping or interrogating people based solely on their suspected immigration status, or inquiring about the immigration status of crime victims or witnesses unless necessary to investigate criminal activity unrelated to enforcing immigration laws;
- Limiting state executive agencies from responding to immigration agency requests for certain sensitive non-public information about individuals except to the extent required by law;
- Limiting access to individuals in state custody by immigration agents solely for civil immigration enforcement purposes;
- Banning the use of state resources or funds to facilitate a federal registry based on national origin, religion or other protected statuses;
- Limiting the collection by state agencies of immigration-related information except to the extent required by federal or state law
- Limiting Rhode Island State Police from participating in the surveillance of political or religious groups in the absence of specific criminal investigatory criteria;
- Strengthening the procedures in place for the Rhode Island State Police to help undocumented crime victims apply for non-immigrant visas specifically designated for such victims;
- Protecting the rights of students in our institutions of higher education from inappropriate federal inquiries about their immigration status except to the extent required by law.
In their letter to Attorney General Kilmartin, the organizations asked that he join at least two other state Attorneys-General in calling for a halt to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) courthouse arrests, and that he repudiate two problematic provisions of President Donald Trump’s Executive Orders – one that essentially seeks to deputize local police to act as immigration officers, and another that threatens to withhold federal funds from municipalities that work to protect immigrants.
Amy Kempe, a spokeswoman for Kilmartin, offered this response to the letter:
“Attorney General Kilmartin has been working, and continues to work, closely with his colleagues across the country in challenging the President’s Executive Order on immigration and how to best and most effectively address the issues raised in the letter. Further, as the letter rightfully points out, the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island has ruled that a federal ICE detainer is not sufficient by itself to detain an individual for the federal authorities. With the ruling, that policy represents the law of this jurisdiction.
“It has been the long-standing position of Attorney General Kilmartin that victims of crimes, or witnesses to crimes, should never fear coming forward to report the crime to law enforcement. They are victims, regardless of their immigration status, and will be treated with the dignity and respect that all victims of crime deserve. However, those who commit a crime while in this country illegally should not be allowed to remain in the country.”
The letter to Chief Justice Suttell requests that he send a letter to the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) urging ICE agents to refrain from conducting enforcement actions at or near state courthouses. Citing recent reports of immigration arrests at courthouses elsewhere, the letter notes the chilling effect it is having on access to the courts everywhere, saying, “The state judiciary cannot deliver the promise of equal access to justice and due process under law if a segment of the community is afraid to access the courts.” Chief Justices in at least four other states have sent similar letters to the DHS.
Deborah Debare, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence focused on the problem of undocumented women facing domestic violence being afraid to report the crime to authorities.
“The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence urges victims of domestic abuse and bystanders to call the police during an incident of violence. However, our advocates are often faced with a victim’s hesitation to contact law enforcement because of distrust in police intervention. This distrust is greater if the victim or bystander fears deportation. Perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence will often use a victim’s immigration status as a way to control them; intimidating them with threats of deportation and separation from children and family members. Abusers often lie about what the government might do to victims, raising fears even when victims have documented legal status. It is critical to our public safety that victims trust law enforcement rather than fear deportation or discrimination if they report violent crime. Trusting local police and feeling safe accessing the protection of the court system is vital for public safety.”
The groups signing onto the letters are ACLU of Rhode Island, RI Coalition Against Domestic Violence, American Friends Service Committee – Southeastern New England, Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island, Economic Progress Institute, Fuerza Laboral, Muslim Civic and Community Engagement, NAACP – Providence Branch, Providence Student Union, Providence Youth Student Movement, Refugee Dream Center, Rhode Island State Council of Churches and Sojourner House.
Other speakers included Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island, The Reverend Doctor Donald Anderson of the Rhode Island State council of Churches, Omar Bar from the Refugee Dream Center and Raul Figueroa, and organizer at Fuerza Laboral.
[This report was compiled in part from the ACLU press release.]