R.I. governor ends order enforcing immigration law

By Eric Tucker
Associated Press / January 6, 2011

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PROVIDENCE — Governor Lincoln Chafee rescinded an executive order yesterday that cracked down on illegal immigration and said he had directed State Police to end a federal agreement under which troopers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 Donald Carcieri.

The 2008 order, which sparked protests and heated debate, directed state departments and vendors to use the federal E-Verify database to check the legal status of new hires. It also required State Police to enter an agreement with federal immigration authorities.

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.

Chafee, speaking before immigrant advocates, 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 senator who became an independent in 2007, 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 did not 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 Immigration and Customs Enforcement whenever someone who is arrested is believed 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 ending of the executive order as a show of tolerance and respect.

“We come here to work hard,’’ said Frank Garcia, a Guatemalan immigrant who lives in Providence and works for a printing company. “I know some people make mistakes. . . . Most of us are working hard, make better lives, live the American dream.’’