RI town council bars police from helping ICE agents

The council also bans participation in federal programs requiring the registration of individuals based on their religion, ethnicity or national origin

By Linda Borg
The Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The South Kingstown Town Council has adopted an ordinance barring the local police from helping federal immigration agents from pursuing and deporting undocumented immigrants in response to the Trump administration's crackdown on such individuals.

The council, in a 3-2 vote, also bans participation in any federal program requiring the registration of individuals based on their religion, ethnicity or national origin, and limits other forms of engagement in immigration enforcement that can adversely affect public safety and undermine good police-community relations, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island.

The enactment, based on a model ordinance prepared by the ACLU of Rhode Island, capped a months-long effort by the South Kingstown Immigration Task Force to get the law passed.

Town council vice-president Abel Collins said the effort was a grass-roots campaign driven by employees of the University of Rhode Island, who worked with members of the local religious community to put together a task force that crafted the ordinance. The town council originally in March passed a resolution similar to Monday's ordinance but the task force wanted to take it a step further.

Abel said it turned into a thorny issue with the police chief opposing the effort on the grounds that it wasn't necessary.

But the task force, he said, "made a lot of compelling arguments about not only why there is a moral imperative, but they made a good case that it's good public policy, that people who are undocumented and afraid of deportation are much less likely to report crimes. It's a public safety issue."

H. Jefferson Melish, a task force member and a member of the ACLU, called the council's vote "a great victory for the rule of law and an unequivocal statement that South Kingstown is a welcoming community. The diverse support for the ordinance – from religious groups, concerned residents, University of Rhode Island faculty, students and administrators, and many others — showed democracy working at its finest."

"I think the effect of the ordinance's passage is huge, said Carl Krueger, a lawyer at the Dorcas International Institute of R.I. "It codifies into law the important principle that local police are not going to be involved in the federal immigration enforcement business."

Krueger noted that simply being "unlawfully present" in the United States is not a crime.

Council President Meg Healey said she sympathized with the ordinance's supporters but thought the language went too far.

"I thought about this long and hard. I'm a humanitarian," she said. "If ICE contacted the South Kingstown police, the town, through the police, would have to get a judicial warrant to release the information. I thought the resolution was binding enough."

Terry Gorman, president of Rhode Island for Immigration Law Enforcement, called this decision "a sad day for the state of Rhode Island ... . This is one of the worst abuses of our laws to occur in Rhode Island to date. I hope they're not taking their queue from the superintendent of the state police. Too bad also the ACLU has taken control in S.K. I'm drafting a letter to our U.S. Attorney General to inform him of this atrocity."

In a letter accompanying the draft ordinance, the ACLU said that the proposal "promotes public safety by maintaining and encouraging positive police-community relations. Residents serve as witnesses, report crime, and otherwise assist law enforcement. The foundation for this cooperation can often be destroyed when local police are viewed as an extension of the immigration system."

The ordinance, the letter said, doesn't bar police officers from continuing to cooperate with Immigration Customs Enforcement when their investigations are "backed by judicial authority or otherwise properly mandated by federal law."

The councilors supporting the ordinance were Abel Collins, Bryant Da Cruz and Liz Gledhill. The opponents, Healey and Joe Viele, argued that the resolution passed earlier was sufficient.

Providence, through its Community Police Relations Act signed by Mayor Jorge Elorza states that the police may not inquire about an individual's immigration status. The mayor's office is also looking into a standing policy that outlines how police handle individuals' immigration status.

©2017 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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