Providence May Opt Out of Controversial Immigration Program

Monday, January 17, 2011


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The state’s largest city could opt out of a new immigration enforcement program that Attorney General Peter Kilmartin wants to bring to the Ocean State.

The program, known as Secure Communities, allows local and state law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of someone who has been arrested against a federal database. Last week, as one of his first official acts since taking office, Kilmartin signed a memorandum of agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to bring the program to Rhode Island.

Providence City Councilman Seth Yurdin, who is the new Majority Leader, told GoLocalProv he is concerned the program could hamper community policing efforts.

City Council considers opting out

Last week, the entire council joined him in that concern, sponsoring a resolution that asks Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare and Police Chief Dean Esserman to examine the effectiveness of the program and its implications for the city, as well as what options Providence has for opting out. (The resolution was referred to the Ordinance Committee for the time being.)

“A lot of civil rights groups have raised concerns and I share those concerns,” said Yurdin, D-Ward 1.

Concerns about community policing

The more police officers are seen as enforcing federal immigration laws, the more difficult it is for them to do the job of community policing, Yurdin said. “Someone might want law enforcement to deal with an issue of domestic violence. They may not want that person deported,” Yurdin said. “The data shows that community policing efforts are hampered the more this appears to be the case.”

He said it’s also unclear exactly how communities can opt out of the program. “The question of whether municipalities can opt out and what that means is complicated,” Yurdin said. “It sounds like a little bit of a moving target.”

A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office could not be reached for comment in time for publication.


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