Providence, DOC land on federal list for policies on illegal immigration

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence and the R.I. Department of Corrections are on the radar of federal immigration officials.

In a report released Monday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement identified Rhode Island’s capital city and the DOC as two of more than 100 jurisdictions across the country that have enacted policies which limit cooperation with the federal agency.

In Providence’s case, the report states the city approved a non-binding resolution in 2011 which it determined could limit cooperation with ICE.  While the specific resolution was not listed, ICE appears to be citing the City Council’s vote on March 3, 2011, expressing concern with the federal Secure Communities program, an initiative that asks local law enforcement agencies to share information with ICE about individuals they arrest.

For DOC, the report cites the agency’s policy of not honoring immigration detainers without a warrant, a policy enacted in 2014. State officials have maintained the DOC’s policy was designed to comply with a 2014 court order.

“When law enforcement agencies fail to honor immigration detainers and release serious criminal offenders, it undermines ICE’s ability to protect the public safety and carry out its mission,” Thomas Homan, the acting director of ICE, said in a statement. “Our goal is to build cooperative, respectful relationships with our law enforcement partners. We will continue collaborating with them to help ensure that illegal aliens who may pose a threat to our communities are not released onto the streets to potentially harm individuals living within our communities.”

ICE is planning to release its Declined Detainer Outcome Report each week, a policy required under an executive order signed by President Trump in January. The report is designed to highlight jurisdictions that do not cooperate with ICE detainers. A spokesman for ICE confirmed Monday was the first time the agency has released a list of jurisdictions it believes limits cooperation with immigration enforcement.

At a press conference proclaiming Tuesday an immigrant day of action, Mayor Jorge Elorza said Providence’s inclusion on the list stems from the 2011 resolution. While President Trump has threatened to strip “sanctuary cities” of federal funding, Elorza said he believes it is “unconstitutional” to attempt to punish communities by withholding funds. Elorza has declared Providence is a “sanctuary city.”

“My sense of being included in this list is the Department of Homeland Security cast a very broad net,” Elorza said. “So I’m not really sure what use this list is going to be for them.”

The immigrant day of action was organized by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Elorza co-chairs the conference’s Immigration Reform Task Force with Anaheim, California Mayor Tom Tait, a Republican.

Elorza has long said he believes Providence does “cooperate and comply with all federal law,” which includes entering the fingerprints of anyone who is arrested into a database that is monitored by ICE. But the city refuses to hold undocumented immigrants for an extended period of time while ICE secures a warrant and police officers do not ask residents about their immigration status.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare confirmed he has been in touch with ICE’s local office in recent months to explain that Providence police don’t wish to participate in any immigration raids that don’t involve accused criminals. The city does have a history of working with ICE on gang-related crimes.

CORRECTION: The original version of this report stated the 2011 City Council resolution opposed Secure Communities. It actually expressed concern with the program.

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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