PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Wednesday rescinded an executive order that cracked down on illegal immigration and said he had directed state police to end a federal agreement under which troopers directly assist with immigration enforcement.
The move fulfills one of Chafee's campaign pledges and cancels one of the more contentious acts taken by his predecessor, Republican Don Carcieri.
The 2008 order, which sparked protests and a heated debate on immigration reform, directed state agencies and vendors that do business with the state to use the federal E-Verify database to check the employment eligibility of new hires.
It also required state police to enter an agreement with federal immigration authorities to help with immigration enforcement. The agreement, known as 287(g), gave specialized immigration enforcement training to some troopers, allowing them direct access to an electronic immigration database to quickly check if a suspect in custody is in the country illegally. The state police routinely check the immigration status of suspects they arrest if troopers have reason to believe they're in the country illegally.
Chafee, speaking before scores of immigrant advocates at the International Institute of Rhode Island, said he considered the executive order divisive and had seen no evidence that it had reined in costs or otherwise been successful.
"My view is that Rhode Island can grow economically by being a tolerant place to do business," Chafee said. "The immigrant-rich areas, I want to see them prosper, and they need it."
Chafee, a former Republican U.S. senator who became an independent in 2007 and was sworn in as governor on Tuesday, reiterated his belief that immigration enforcement needs to be dealt with on a federal level and said he would support measures that provide a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Chafee said he didn't want state troopers enforcing immigration law, but added that he still needed to work out details with Superintendent Brendan Doherty about what precise changes would be implemented. Doherty said he would respect the governor's order to end the 287(g) agreement but also said his troopers would continue to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement whenever someone who's arrested is found to be in the country illegally.
"Let me be perfectly clear that the Rhode Island State Police will still communicate and cooperate with ICE in matters of mutual concern," Doherty said.
Immigrants and their advocates gave Chafee a standing ovation as he entered the room and hailed the repeal of the executive order as a show of tolerance and respect.
"We come here to work hard. I know some people make mistakes -- not all of them. Most of us are working hard, make better lives, live the American dream," said Frank Garcia, a Guatemalan immigrant who lives in Providence and works for a printing company.
New Attorney General Peter Kilmartin has said he plans to enlist the state in the federal government's "Secure Communities" program, which allows local police departments to automatically check fingerprints of arrested suspects against a federal immigration database. Demonstrators gathered at the attorney general's office Wednesday afternoon to protest against the program, but Kilmartin's spokeswoman said he remains committed to having the state participate.