“Complainants, witnesses and victims are encouraged to communicate with State Police officers without fear of inquiry regarding their immigration status or alien status,” says a revised policy from the State Police in Rhode Island. “Being an undocumented person in this country, barring any criminal activity, is a federal civil violation not enforced by the Rhode Island State Police. A person’s immigration or citizenship status shall not be a reason to not pursue a complaint or complete an investigation.”
Representatives from over a dozen groups concerned with the status of documented and undocumented immigrants in the context of President Donald Trump‘s vicious rhetoric and heartless policies met with Rhode Island State Police officials, including Colonel Ann Assumpico Tuesday morning. Discussed was a State Police policy adopted on June 30 that seeks to outline when and to what extent State Police will collaborate with United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in terms of detaining and deporting the undocumented.
With recent reports that President Trump is considering ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which currently protects from deportation nearly 800,000 young people who were brought to the United States as minors, interest in where the lines between state and federal enforcement of immigration orders has risen.
“We want to foster trust,” said Assumpico by way of introduction, “We want anybody in Rhode Island, or any place, who is a victim or they have an issue, to come to the State Police.”
“We’re not immigration agents,” said Chief Investigative Officer Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Philbin, who recently updated the policy. “We don’t enforce immigration law … we don’t even go down that road. The most important thing here is that we want to investigate the crimes that people are bringing to us.”
Aside from Assumpico and Philbin, there were five other representatives from the State Police present to answer questions from the 35 or so people in the meeting: Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Barry; Major Christopher Dicomitis, who oversees community outreach program; director of training Captain Darnell Weaver; chief legal council Paul Andrews; and Victims Assistance Provider Christine Santos. The meeting was mostly in a question and answer format. The full video of the meeting is below. The policy can be accessed here.
In the video below, a question from Steven Brown, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island (RIACLU) asks a question that explains the process of being pulled over by the Rhode Island State Police when driving while undocumented and without a license.
The revised policy attempts to make clear that the Rhode Island State Police are not responsible for investigating and enforcing violations of federal civil immigration law. Under the policy, no “Division member” can question an individual about their immigration status, unless that status is somehow relevant to the criminal investigation. Those in State Police custody shall “be subject to the same booking, processing, release and transfer procedures, policies and practices… regardless of actual or suspected citizenship or immigration status.”
“The Rhode Island State police shall not provide ICE with access to an individual in their custody or the use of agency facilities to question or interview such individual if ICE’s sole purpose is enforcement of Federal Civil Immigration Law” unless ICE has a proper Federal Judicial Order.
“The State Police are not authorized to stop, arrest and/or take an individual into custody based solely on an ICE detainer or on actual or suspected immigration status.” This section is followed with a lengthy explanation of how ICE detainers must be filled out and processed.
“No Division member shall contact ICE without prior authorization from a Division supervisor or Officer-In-Charge (OIC).”
It should be noted that these policies only apply to the Rhode Island State Police. Cities and towns in Rhode Island can develop different policies. Some may even decide to cooperate with ICE.
One way the State Police can not help but to alert ICE is through the fingerprinting process. When an individual is fingerprinted, that information is instantly uploaded to a shared law enforcement database that can be accessed by ICE, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, even Interpol. Still, if ICE wants to serve a detainer on that individual, it will have to be done at the courthouse, not at a State Police barracks.
Another related concern was the possibility that the State Police might the surveil religious and political groups in the absence of specific evidence of criminal activity. Some of those present had specifically asked Governor Gina Raimondo to issue an executive order against the practice. The governor did not issue such an order. “Sometimes we have to conduct surveillance on groups that come under our radar,” said Colonel Philbin, “So we can’t really eliminate that.”
“It’s a matter of public safety,” added Assumpico.
Reverend Betsy Garland, from the Rhode Island Council of Churches, asked, “What would your reaction be to those of use who are considering offering sanctuary in our churches, our synagogues, our schools?”
“That’s something that you can do,” answered Colonel Assumpico. “You have a mission that you’re on, we have a mission that we’re on. But that is totally up to you as far as sanctuary churches.”
“We’re certainly not going to go there and try to arrest people, if that’s one of the things you’re thinking about,” added Paul Andrews, the chief legal council. “We’re not going to go there and start asking for identification. That’s totally nothing that we’d get involved in.”
Some other notes from the meeting:
Colonel Assumpico supports driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants because it will enhance safety.
Major Christopher Dicomitis said that shortly after Donald Trump was elected, there was a large number of calls to his community outreach program expressing concerns and asking questions, but over the last few months, the number of calls have dropped.
Social worker Christine Santos, a victims assistance provider, said that she has never seen a victim or witness to a crime come to the State Police and then be identified by ICE for possible deportation. She has worked for the State Police for 12 years. Andrews, the chief legal council, added that victims names are redacted on released police reports if the victim doesn’t want their name on them. Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Barry said it was important to know that ICE is not accessing the Rhode Island State Police systems looking for undocumented immigrants. “We’re not allowing anyone externally to come in and scour our databases,” said Barry.