After Trump order on sanctuary cities, Mayor Elorza vows to protect undocumented immigrants

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Hours after President Donald Trump announced he would sign an executive order that threatens to strip sanctuary cities of federal funding, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza on Wednesday doubled down on his pledge to protect undocumented immigrants living in the capital city.

Elorza, a Democrat, said he believes Providence already does “cooperate and comply with all federal law,” but “we don’t extend ourselves and go out of our way” to enforce immigration laws.

“We’ve looked at all of our policies and as I’ve mentioned a number of times, we’re not going to sacrifice any of our folks here in Providence,” Elorza said. “My job is to represent every single resident of the city of Providence and we will continue to do that.”

There is no formal definition for sanctuary jurisdictions, but the title is generally assigned to communities that refuse to cooperate with certain requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when it comes to holding an undocumented immigrant for deportation.

The executive order Trump signed Wednesday was light on details, but did state that the secretary of homeland security would be given the ability to designate sanctuary communities. Elorza said he didn’t know if Providence would receive such a designation.

Providence receives approximately $70 million a year in federal funding for education, law enforcement and other departments, according to Elorza.

Trump’s executive order said authorities will focus on undocumented immigrants who have been charged with or convicted of any criminal offense; have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense; have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter; have abused any program related to the receipt of public benefits; are already subject to a final order or deportation; or are considered a public safety risk by immigration officers.

Providence, like most communities in the United States, already detains undocumented immigrants accused of serious crimes.

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 arraignments.

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.

Elorza said he is concerned the executive order will have a negative impact on public safety. He said he doesn’t want residents who may be undocumented to stop calling the police to report crime.

“As police chiefs throughout the country have said, these kinds of efforts don’t improve public safety,” Elorza said. “They actually hinder public safety because public safety is all about the relationships that police departments have with the local community.”

Elorza isn’t the only one pledging to protect immigrants in light of the executive order. Reverend Dr. Donald Anderson, the executive minister of the Rhode Island Council of Churches, says he is organizing churches, synagogues and mosques who are willing to take in undocumented immigrants who fear deportation.

He said congregations could house and protect immigrants around the clock, if necessary.

“Should ICE decide to come into a house of worship, then there are those of us, people like myself and many others, who are willing to put our bodies in between ICE agents and those people,” Anderson said. “And if need be, be arrested.”


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