Rhode Island Continues Efforts to Pander to Illegal Aliens
FAIR Take | May 2022
Bills to benefit illegal aliens have had mixed success this legislative session in Rhode Island. A bill to ban immigration detention contracts in the state stalled while a bill to grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens passed the Senate for the second year in a row.
Immigration Detention Ban
On April 27, the Rhode Island House Committee on Finance held a hearing on House Bill (HB) 7799, a bill to ban immigration detention contracts. During the hearing, the committee voted the bill be “held for further study.” This is a procedure common to New England states. It can be used as face-saving way to defeat a bill without officially defeating it or alternatively to simply delay a bill’s consideration until later in the same legislative session.
California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland have all passed laws forbidding local governments or private contractors from contracting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house immigration detainees. These bans have been challenged in court everywhere except for Maryland for interfering with or usurping the constitutional supremacy of federal law over immigration. If Rhode Island enacts HB 7799, there would likely be a court challenge there as well.
Currently, the only immigration detention facility in Rhode Island is the Wyatt Facility, which is located in Central Falls and is the hometown of the bill’s sponsor Representative Joshua Giraldo (D). The Wyatt facility with its ICE contract employs approximately 130 people and provides the city significant federal funds. If the facility closed, the detainees would be transferred to facilities in other states but the city would lose the jobs and revenue.
Moreover, detainees, their families, and their attorneys recognize detention ban laws may not be in the detainees’ best interests since it moves them further away from their families and counsel.
At this juncture, HB 7799 does not have a companion bill in the Senate which may indicate a lower priority for leadership.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia currently issue driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, most recently joined by Virginia in 2020. Pro-illegal alien advocates hope Rhode Island will join their ranks.
Last year, the Rhode Island Senate passed a bill to grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens but the House held off. House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi (D-Warwick) claimed the bill would cost the state $7 million which was not included in the already-passed state budget wouldn’t cover. He also stated the matter needed be further studied by the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
On January 6, 2022, Senator Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) reintroduced legislation to give illegal aliens driver’s licenses. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on this driver’s license bill (Senate Bill (SB) 2006) on March 10. FAIR staff submitted testimony opposing it. At the hearing, the bill was “held for further study.”
However, at a second committee meeting held on April 28, the Committee reported it out favorably with an amendment. On May 5, the Senate adopted the amendment and passed the bill by a vote of 27-10.
Representative Anastasia Williams (D-Providence) introduced HB 7708, a companion bill to SB 2006, on March 2. The House bill, referred to the Judiciary Committee, was held for further study on March 24.
Once the House received the Senate-passed driver’s license bill, it was referred to the same Committee that had previously ordered the House companion bill be sent to study. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Robert Craven (D-North Kingstown) has not yet scheduled a vote on either bill.
Since neither bill appropriates funds to cover the costs to the DMV, it is unclear if the Speaker’s concerns from last year have been resolved. However, if a driver’s license bill does pass both chambers, Governor McKee has declared his “strong support” for the legislation and he will likely sign it into law.
The Rhode Island legislature is currently scheduled to adjourn on June 30.