Rhode Island Sees a Flurry of Activity on Pro-Illegal Alien Bills
FAIR Take | March 2022
Recently, legislation in Rhode Island pushed by pro-illegal alien legislators has seen a flurry of activity. There were hearings for driver’s licenses and state ID cards bills for illegal aliens, as well as for a sanctuary state bill. Also, bills to ban immigration detention were introduced.
Much of this activity can be attributed to the April 12 deadline which is the date they must be reported out of committee.
Rhode Island has been a sanctuary state since 2014, when then-Governor Lincoln Chaffee ordered the state’s Department of Corrections (RIDOC) not to honor immigration detainers issued by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Because Rhode Island has no county jails, RIDOC houses every person arrested for a crime anywhere in the state, not just convicted felons serving their sentences.
While Rhode Island is currently a sanctuary state, this has not been codified by the legislature and could be easily undone. A future governor could narrow or rescind this executive order. Knowing the ease with which the executive order can be undone, legislators have been trying to pass a sanctuary bill to ensure this does not happen.
This session, Representative David Morales (D-Providence), introduced House Bill (HB) 7249 that would enshrine and expand the state’s sanctuary policies. The bill would not only require state and local law enforcement to ignore immigration detainers but dramatically restrict their ability to cooperate or share information with federal immigration authorities.
The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on HB 7249 on March 3. FAIR staff as well as Rhode Island activists submitted testimony in opposition. After the hearing, the committee decided to “hold the bill for further study.” This is a procedure to defer taking action on a bill without making committee members vote it down. While unusual, bills can be recalled from study. It recently happened in 2021 with a bill granting in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens.
HB 7249 has a companion bill in the Senate. Senator Samuel Bell (D-Providence) introduced Senate Bill (SB) 2150 on January 25 and it was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. So far, the Senate bill has not been scheduled for a committee hearing.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia currently issue driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, the most recent being Virginia in 2020. Pro-illegal alien advocates hope Rhode Island will join their ranks.
This session, Senator Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) introduced his driver’s licenses bill for illegal aliens, SB 2006, on January 6. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the bill on March 10. FAIR staff submitted testimony opposing it. The bill was “held for further study.”
In the Rhode Island House, Rep. Anastasia Williams (D-Providence) introduced HB 7708 on March 2. It was referred to the House Judiciary Committee and has not yet garnered any action.
Immigration Detention Ban
California, Illinois, New Jersey, and most recently Maryland have passed legislation forbidding local governments or private contractors to contract with ICE to house immigration detainees while they go through the removal process. These laws have been challenged in court everywhere except Maryland (which may still happen) for interfering with or usurping the constitutional supremacy of federal law over immigration and are in various stages of ongoing litigation.
Yet, despite the near-certainty of litigation if similar legislation passed in Rhode Island, Representative Joshua Giraldo (D-Central Falls) introduced HB 7799 on March 3 to ban immigration detention contracts in the state.
Currently, there is only one immigration detention facility in Rhode Island, the Wyatt Facility in Rep. Giraldo’s hometown of Central Falls. The facility currently houses immigration detainees under a contract with ICE which provides the city significant funds and employs approximately 130 people. If the facility closed, the detainees would be transferred to facilities in other states but the city would lose the jobs and revenue. Detainees and their families and attorneys recognize detention ban laws may not be in the detainees best interests since it moves them further away from their families and counsel.
HB 7799 is currently assigned to the House Finance Committee. To date, it has not been scheduled for a hearing.