During the delivery of a petition in opposition to House Bill 5093, the “Public Safety and Protection Act,” Representatives Arthur Corvese Jr, David Coughlin and Robert Nardolillo III (R District 28 Coventry) were confronted about the bill and found themselves unable to defend it to the satisfaction of opponents. Well over 100 people made their way into the House chamber of the RI State House Tuesday afternoon to deliver a message opposing an extreme bill all three representatives support, targeting undocumented families.
According to the petitioners, the proposed legislation would “make it a crime for local public officials not to aggressively target immigrants in our community and allow any citizen to sue them if they didn’t. This measure forces every local official to be a tool of Trump’s racist immigration policy — and it goes against Rhode Island values and what Democrats purport to stand for.”
Representative Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence), who sponsored the bill, is the Deputy Majority Leader of the House, high up in Speaker Nicholas Mattiello‘s clique. The House chamber was difficult to navigate because of the over 100 people voicing their opposition to the bill, so I caught up to Corvese already in conversation with Georgia Hollister-Isman of the RI Working Families Party.
Corvese said, “I am not concerned about law-abiding individuals, be they citizens or illegal immigrants. Having said that, here in this room when you put a bill in you ask for a loaf and hope to get half. So I put the bill in, it was broadly written- perhaps too broadly written.”
“Extreme,” suggested Justin Boyan, of Resist Hate RI.
“I agree,” said Corvese, “but having said that, the impetus behind the bill, which I have here and would like you to read…”
“I will,” promised Hollister-Isman, taking the sheet of paper.
“Okay,” said Corvese, “Pass it along. I gave a copy to the press. There are some bad actors in the immigrant community, and we have to do our best to codify into law a system by which there are no loopholes. That’s basically what I want to do.”
“But these are people who local law enforcement would be letting free,” countered Hollister-Isman, “They are not people who are bad actors. They are people who would be released from custody otherwise who ICE is asking to detain longer than that.”
“And I understand that,” said Corvese, ” but I still feel that the process is such that there’s too much loopholes. So, I thank you for these signatures, I am going to probably address everyone in my district, with my response, and I thank you for it and I see that you guys have a very…”
“We’re going to come to your district,” interrupted a man, “if we’re not already there! Some of us are already there!”
“And I can understand that and I welcome you into my district,” said Corvese. “You’ll find my district is an interesting district.
“There are people in your district who oppose this,” pressed the man.
“I understand that,” said Corvese, “and there are quite a few who support it.”
“You understand that this is like inherently racist?” asked a young black woman behind me.
“So I won’t take my name off the bill,” said Corvese, ignoring the question, “just on principle. That would be- That’s something I can’t do. However, I have the response here, it’s a pleasure to talk to you, unfortunately now, I have to do some other business. But I thank you.”
“Okay,” replied Hollister-Isman, “there’s lots of people here to chat with you.”
As Corvese made his way through the crowd, a man pointed him out to the crowd, and said, “This guy’s the sponsor right here!”
Corvese found himself booed and jeered as he walked away.
Corvese’s written statement (see the picture above) began by mentioning two incidents, one in Cleveland and one in San Francisco, both taking place in July 2015, in which undocumented persons are said to have committed terrible crimes after they were released by local law enforcement instead of turned over to ICE and deported. “These are just 2 examples for the need for a process, codified into our state law,” writes Corvese, “which enables local law enforcement to contact federal immigration authorities when necessary without interference or restriction from municipal or state authorities. Simply put, it would allow our local law enforcement to do their job, which is to be our first line of domestic defense from the criminal element.”
I made my way to where Representative David Coughlin (Democrat, District 60, Pawtucket) was defending Corvese’s bill to a small group of opponents, even though it quickly became apparent he was not overly familiar with what the bill said.
“Isn’t this bill about separating families and asking the police to ask people’s immigration status?” asked a young woman.
Coughlin shook his head. “Where is that in the bill?” he asked.
That would be 42-159-3 (d): “No state or local government entity or official may limit or restrict the enforcement of federal immigration law, including… limit or restrict a state or local entity or official from initiating an immigration status investigation…” and 42-159-3 (e) “…a law enforcement agency may securely transport an alien who the agency has received verification from the United States Department of Homeland Security is unlawfully present in the United States and who is in the agency’s custody to a federal facility in Rhode Island or to any other point of transfer into federal custody that is outside the jurisdiction of the law enforcement agency.”
“What is the bill, then? Tell us your perspective,” asked the young woman.
“This bill,” said Coughlin, “basically says… Have you read the bill?”
“Yeah, I’ve read it.”
“What the bill says, is, elected officials, elected government, in the State of Rhode Island, cannot obstruct justice, cannot interfere with ICE. It does not say…”
“The bill says you have to help [ICE],” said a man to my left.
“Where’s that sentence in the bill?” asked Coughlin.
That would be 42-159-3 (c), “All state and local government entities and officials shall fully comply with and, to the full extent permitted by law, support the enforcement of federal immigration law.”
“The bill should say that no police officer should have to do the job of ICE,” said the young woman.
“And that bill does not say they have to do it,” said Coughlin, incorrectly.
The confusion at this point was palpable. Coughlin was literally saying that the bill did not say what the language plainly says it does. I couldn’t hear what was asked next, but Coughlin raised his hands and said, “Okay, I’m not going to answer these questions.”
“So you can’t answer the question? You keep asking a question every time we ask a question without answering them,” said another woman.
“No, I’m not going to answer these metaphors that people…” said Coughlin.
“They’re not metaphors!”
“It’s an anti-immigrant bill!”
“I’m not kissing anyone’s ring, okay?” said Coughlin.
“You’re anti-immigrant and this bill represents that.”
“I am not anti-immigrant,” said Coughlin.
“This is the bill we want you to support,” said yet another woman, handing Coughlin a copy of Representative Shelby Maldonado‘s H5515, “The Trust Act.” This bill would have the exact opposite effect of Corvese’s bill. Where Corvese would see all of Rhode Island’s municipal and state law enforcement compelled to comply with ICE directives, The Trust Act would expressly prohibit such cooperation.
After reviewing H5515, Coughlin said, “The bill we’ve got does not compel our state police or local police to arrest anybody. What it says is that you can’t interfere with the federals when they come in, but it does not say that you got to carry out this- [Providence Public Safety] Commissioner [Steven] Paré has got it right. He’s nailed it down. So has [RI State Police] Colonel [Ann] Assumpico. They’re not going to spend time arresting people for ICE. All we’re saying with the bill is- you cannot interfere with Federal law enforcement. That’s all that bill really says.”
I couldn’t hear the next question.
“Because I’m opposed to the undefined Sanctuary City concept,” said Coughlin.
“But why are you opposed to Sanctuary Cities?”
“First of all,” said Coughlin, before pausing and shaking his head. Coughlin simply stopped speaking at this point.
“That’s not an answer,” responded the woman. “I’d like to know why. Why are you opposed to them?”
“Why am I opposed to them?” asked Coughlin, “Why am I opposed to Sanctuary Cities? Because they’re violating the Federal law.”
“But the law should be changed.”
“But this isn’t the forum,” said Coughlin, “You need to call up your Senators in Congress and tell them to change the immigration law.”
“Well,” said the woman, “”You could become an activist and become a sanctuary state.”
Coughlin, having had enough, left.
After Coughlin’s sudden and exasperating exit, I found Representative Robert Nardolillo III (Republican, District 28, Coventry) engaged in conversation with several people. Nardolillo is a vocal opponent of undocumented persons, preferring to call them by the racist term “illegal aliens.”
Nardolillo was busy telling the story of an immigrant who told him it “wasn’t fair” to grant undocumented people driver’s licenses when she went through the process of becoming a legal citizen. Nardolillo’s story, however, had nothing to do with the bill in question.
“Drop the bill!” said a man.
“Sir, I’m not the sponsor of the bill, I support the bill because…” said Nardolillo.
“Then take your name off it!”
There’s a lot of crosstalk, then someone yells, “Shut up, Nardolillo!”
“I want to give you an idea of why I stand where I stand on the immigration process,” said Nardolillo, but his explanation, whatever it was going to be, was drowned out by crosstalk, and the people around him demanding that he stay on point, which was bill H5093, which has nothing to do with licenses for undocumented persons.
As emotions rose, Nardolillo walked away, with calls of “Coward!” and “Shame, shame, shame!” echoing behind him.
H5093 and H5515 have not been scheduled for public hearing.