Providence Says No to Secure Communities

It's the latest chapter in Rhode Island's ongoing controversy around immigration.

By Julianne Hing Mar 09, 2011

In the latest chapter in Rhode Island’s ongoing controversy around Secure Communities, the city council of Providence last week passed a resolution announcing the city’s opposition to the immigration enforcement program.

The Anti-Secure Communities Resolution was introduced by City Councilor Seth Yurdin and passed after immigrant and civil rights groups testified about the harmful effects of Secure Communities on public safety and the immigrant community.

In January, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin signed the entire state up for Secure Communities, the federal program that allows immigration authorities to investigate the immigration status of anyone in police custody. The announcement prompted Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steve Pare to send a letter to the Department of Homeland Security saying the city wanted to opt out of the program.

Pare’s letter led to a dust-up with the State Police Superintendent Brendan Doherty, who quit in February, just two weeks into his tenure after publicly tussling with Gov. Lincoln Chafee on the issue. Doherty supports Secure Communities, which Chafee had asked him to refrain from publicly commenting on. Chafee announced Doherty’s replacement on Monday–former U.S. Marshall Steve O’Donnell. The Providence Journal reports that O’Donnell’s appointment signals Chafee’s implicit support for Secure Communities.

"Our issue is, someone’s in our custody and we don’t want to release them until we’ve vetted them," O’Donnell said, the newspaper reported.

Secure Communities labels the undocumented immigrants it finds "criminal aliens." Secure Communities data shows, though, that the vast majority of those who are swept up through the program have never been convicted of or committed any crime.