By Ray Henry,
PROVIDENCE, R.I. --Gov. Don Carcieri signed an executive order Thursday requiring state police and prison officials to identify immigration violators in state custody and report them to federal authorities for possible deportation.
His order also forces the state to verify the immigration status of new government workers, as well as the employees of any company that does business with the state. Carcieri said he supported legislation that would force all companies in Rhode Island to do the same.
The Republican governor said he understands that illegal immigrants face hardships -- but he does not want them in Rhode Island.
"If you're here illegally, you shouldn't be here illegally. You shouldn't be here," Carcieri said.
Carcieri's popularity has plummeted in recent months as Rhode Island faces an estimated $550 million budget deficit, its worst financial crisis since a series of bank and credit union collapses in the early 1990s. He has proposed cutting school funding, reducing welfare and health care benefits and even letting prisoners out of jail early.
He linked the presence of illegal immigrants to the state's financial woes and blamed Congress for failing to set a new immigration policy. He said he supported increasing the number of legal immigrants and skilled workers allowed into the country.
Carcieri was testy when taking questions after signing the order. When a reporter asked if his order might embolden xenophobes, Carcieri blamed the media for inflaming the immigration debate.
But Carcieri has occasionally turned up the rhetorical heat. In October, he appeared on a talk radio show where callers often vent about illegal immigrants. Responding to a caller's question, Carcieri said he did not think the state should employ translators to assist people seeking government benefits. Carcieri later laid off three Asian-langauge interpreters. When a group of teenagers criticized his decision as racist, Carcieri's wife compared the critics to suicide bombers in comments to a newspaper columnist.
Under his order, state police will enter an agreement with federal immigration authorities permitting them access to specialized immigration databases. That information would allow police to identify and detain immigration violators.
State police could investigate the legal status of anyone they suspect is an immigration violator, including crime victims, witnesses and people supplying police with confidential tips, state police Maj. Steven O'Donnell said.
Department of Corrections Director A.T. Wall said the prison system will negotiate a similar agreement so it too can identify illegal immigrants in state custody as well as legal immigrants who are subject to deportation if convicted of crimes.
Carcieri said he did not know how much his initiatives would cost, although he assumed they would save money in the long run. Right now, Rhode Island has eliminated so many clerks to save money that it cannot pay its bills on time.
Immigrant advocate Juan Garcia feared Carcieri's proposals would drive a vulnerable community underground. He said illegal immigrants who are victims of crime will fear approaching police, and that children could suffer if parents lose their jobs.
"These people are not criminals," he said. "This is affecting the poor people."
Carcieri has already proposed cutting immigrant children, legal and illegal, from a state-subsidized health care plan.
Rhode Island lawmakers have introduced a slew of bills this year dealing with illegal immigration, but Carcieri said he did not know whether he would support them.
One would make it a crime for state workers to issue state ID cards or other documents to illegal immigrants; kick illegal immigrants off public assistance programs; make it illegal to transport or harbor illegal immigrants; and deny illegal immigrants college loans.