Pare: Providence won’t participate in ‘investigation or enforcement’ of immigration laws

From left to right, city finance director Larry Mancini, Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare and city solicitor Jeff Dana. (Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said Wednesday Providence will not participate in a federal program that allows local cops to be designated immigration officers, even as the Trump administration seeks to crack down on individuals living in the country illegally.

Providence already prohibits its police officers from inquiring about the immigration status of individuals they interact with, although that policy is not directly written into any city ordinance. The city only agrees to detain immigration violators if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials secure a warrant.

“Local law enforcement should not be immigration officers nor an arm of ICE,” Pare told Eyewitness News. “We will not be involved in the investigation or enforcement of immigration laws. This requires comprehensive immigration reform and should not be the responsibility of local law enforcement.”

On Tuesday the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a pair of memos outlining how it intends to enforce President Trump’s executive order regarding illegal immigration and border security, including plans to hire 10,000 more immigration officers, end the “catch and release” policy that allowed some people caught crossing the border to be released into the United States pending immigration hearings, and increase the number of expedited removals from the country.

DHS is also encouraging more law enforcement agencies to participate in its 287(g) program, which trains state and local police officers to work as immigration officers, typically when it comes to identifying undocumented people in jail. It does not appear that DHS is requiring local agencies to sign on to the program, and one of the memos suggests the expansion would occur in the “border region.”

None of the 38 agencies in 16 states that participate in the 287(g) program are in Rhode Island. The sheriffs in Bristol County and Plymouth County in Massachusetts signed agreements with ICE to join the program last month.

Pare, Police Chief Hugh Clements and Mayor Jorge Elorza have all said they believe the city’s existing policies around illegal immigration comply with federal law. Anyone arrested in the city has their fingerprints run through a database that ICE monitors. If a suspect has a federal criminal warrant, they are held for immigration officers. But city police will not hold undocumented immigrants after they’re processed for their non-immigration violations unless a warrant is in place.

City officials are currently considering adding the existing police department policy around illegal immigration to the proposed Community Safety Act, a far-reaching ordinance designed to curb most forms of profiling by law enforcement.

While Elorza is the only one of the three that has publicly declared Providence a sanctuary city, they have all cited concerns about the willingness of undocumented people to come forward as witnesses to or victims of crimes if the city takes a tougher approach to illegal immigration. One of the DHS memos issued Tuesday states privacy protections will no longer be afforded to people in the country illegally.

The Providence officials have also said adding immigration enforcement to the scope of a local officer’s work would place an undue amount of stress on a department that processes more than 120,000 service calls a year.

The executive order Trump signed in January threatens to strip sanctuary cities of certain federal grants, but it remains unclear when those actions will occur. Providence received more than $70 million in direct federal funding in 2015, although city officials believe the majority of its federal aid is not at risk because it comes through budget appropriations.

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