Elorza: Providence won’t change undocumented immigrant policy for President Trump

Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI 12
Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said Sunday the city will continue its longstanding policy of not referring undocumented immigrants who aren’t facing criminal charges to federal immigration officials, even if that means losing out on federal funding.

Elorza’s comments came as a response to incoming President-elect Donald Trump, who has threatened to withhold federal dollars to so-called “sanctuary cities” during his campaign.

“We are standing with cities like Los Angles and New York City who have made it clear that we will not sacrifice a single resident and we will continue to protect our communities,” Elorza, a Democrat whose parents were born in Guatemala, said in a statement. “It is important that every resident can live their lives without fear of being persecuted.”

Elorza’s comments were first reported by The Providence Journal.

As it stands now, the fingerprints of any person arrested in Rhode Island’s capital city are run through a federal database, according to Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare. If a person is in the country illegally, the database automatically informs U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the arrest. The city does not hold undocumented immigrants simply for being undocumented, so ICE officers seeking to detain a suspect arrested in Providence must attend their arraignment.

Providence also has a policy of not referring undocumented immigrants accused of civil infractions to ICE. For example, if an undocumented person is given a ticket for a trash violation in the city, the person isn’t flagged for ICE.

“We will continue enforcing our current policy to ensure that law-abiding residents can do just that regardless of inconsequential civil infractions,” Elorza said. “In Providence, we are truly stronger when we’re together and I will work to protect every resident who feels uncertain of our nation’s future.”

Elorza’s comments came a day after he attended a meeting at Hope High School to began organizing local opposition to the incoming Trump administration. State Rep. Aaron Regunberg, D-Providence, estimated that roughly 1,000 people were at the event.

“I woke up Wednesday morning of this week feeling like I was in a nightmare,” Regunberg said in his prepared remarks. “I’m terrified about what a Trump presidency, aligned with the far-right Congress, will do for our country and our planet.”

On the campaign trail, Trump threatened to block federal funding to sanctuary cities, but because that term does not have a legal definition, it’s unclear which communities could be at risk. ICE has identified 300 jurisdictions across the country as having “a policy that is non-cooperative and obstructs immigration enforcement,” according to the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think tank based in Washington.

Although the Center for Immigration Studies does not list Providence as a sanctuary city, critics have long accused the city of being too lenient when it comes to undocumented immigrants.

In 2011, then-Mayor Angel Taveras and Pare asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security whether Providence could opt out of using Secure Communities, an initiative that asked local law enforcement agencies to run the fingerprints of accused criminals against federal immigration databases. (The city was told it must participate in the program.)

The Secure Communities program was discontinued in 2014 after President Obama signed an executive order overhauling the nation’s immigration policy.

An Eyewitness News review of statistics published by ICE shows Secure Communities led to the deportation of 343 individuals in Rhode Island between 2011 and 2015.

Continue the discussion on Facebook

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

Ted Nesi contributed to this report.