Since Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston), actively campaigned in a tight re-election race on his resolute refusal to allow driver’s licenses for what he called “illegal aliens,” it is unlikely that H5686, which would allow driver’s licenses for undocumented residents in Rhode Island, will pass this year.
That’s too bad, because passing the bill will only increase the safety of all Rhode Islanders and reduce poverty in our state. The bill has the support of Governor Gina Raimondo, the Rhode Island State Police and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. Elorza appeared before the committee to testify in favor of passage in Tuesday night’s House Judiciary Committee meeting.
Opposition to the bill came mostly in the form of nativist fear mongering and a single-minded commitment to immigration laws, no matter how broken or immoral such laws might be. Below please find most of the video from the committee hearing.
First up, Representative Anastasia Williams (Democrat, District 9, Providence) introduces the bill. A companion bill, from Senator Frank Ciccone (Democrat, District 7, Providence, North Providence), will be heard in Senate judiciary at a later date.
Not only did Mayor Elorza testify in favor of the driver’s license bill, he also ably defended his definition of “sanctuary city” under questioning from Representatives David Coughlin (Democrat, District 60, Pawtucket) and Justin Price (Republican, District 39, Richmond, Exeter, Hopkinton).
“With this type of a license, I’m assuming there’s going to be a database somewhere, with these individual’s names and addresses,” said Coughlin. “What assurances can we give these people that if ICE comes in, let’s say they use the court system, and they get hold of this database? What kind of guarantee can we give these people that ICE isn’t going to pick them off like fish in a barrel?”
It was surprising to hear Coughlin bring up this problem. Coughlin was a co-sponsor of H5093, which would have mandated that state and municipal police cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in detaining and deporting the undocumented. Coughlin had pro-immigrant rights supporters picketing outside his house. Why is he feigning concern?
Since the driver’s license bill requires that applicants have paid taxes for at least two years before applying, the government will already have the information Coughlin is talking about. The idea of a new database and the safety concerns it will spawn seems to have been brought up to scare the undocumented and their supporters from pursuing passage of the bill.
“So say this does pass,” said Representative Price, “and Providence has already been declared a ‘sanctuary city’ as we all know it and you [Elorza] acknowledged that in your press releases, do you think this will foster even more, a growing population of illegal and undocumented people coming to the state, saying the door’s open?”
Elorza countered that there’s been no evidence showing that undocumented people flock to states or municipalities that offer licenses.
“I do want to clarify exactly what it means to say that Providence is a sanctuary city,” said Elorza, “Certainly I am proud to say that Providence is a sanctuary city, but the truth is that when people say ‘sanctuary city’ they mean all kinds of different things. We’re using the same term, but it’s like we’re speaking different languages. When I say the words ‘sanctuary city’ what it means is that our police officers are not going to ask folks about their immigration status. So if we pull someone over because they forgot to use their turn signal, they’ll get a ticket, just like anyone else, but we’re not going to ask them if they have legal papers.
“I think that on the other side, there’s almost this caricature about it. When we say ‘sanctuary city,’ we’re made out to seem as though we’re inviting criminals into our city. And if the criminal is undocumented, you get extra points, we want you even more. That’s not true. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“The truth is that every municipality, every city in the United States, our priority is to make sure that violent criminals are caught and are behind bars and if they are undocumented, they should be deported. There is no debate there.
“The truth is that when we say ‘sanctuary city’ we mean very different thing. As a city, I will resist and we will object to any measure that takes our scarce law enforcement resources and causes us to de-prioritize focusing on violent criminals. As my police chief has said, and as police chiefs throughout the country have said, we should focus on those folks who have violent criminal records, and not focus on, for example, people who have forgotten to put a turn signal on or forgot to fully stop at a stop sign.”
Elorza said that he had met recently with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and asked for clarity as to the Trump administration’s definition of sanctuary city. ICE is a department of Homeland.
Representative Ramon Perez (Democrat, District 13, Providence, Johnston) testified in favor of the bill.
Terry Gorman, of RIILE, testified against.
Mike Araujo, of Rhode Island Jobs with Justice, testified in favor of the bill. In response, Representative Price slammed his laptop shut.
State Senator Frank Ciccone, testified in favor.
State Senator Ana Quezada (Democrat, District 2, Providence) testified in favor of the bill.
Attorney Andrew Kagan represents many undocumented immigrants. “Because of the current environment in a Trump administration, they are justifiably afraid to come forward and testify.”
Kagan read testimony from one of his clients in favor of the bill.
Stacia Huyler has asked me not to take her picture, so I get to spare you fifteen minutes of nonsense by honoring her wishes.
12-year old Christopher Vargas testified in favor of licenses for the undocumented.
Steven Brown of the RI ACLU testified in favor of the bill.
Testified against the bill.
Testified in favor.
Testified in favor.
Testified in favor.
Testified in favor.