PROVIDENCE - Governor Don Carcieri signed an executive order yesterday 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 its workers, as well as the workers 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 added that he does not want them in Rhode Island.
"If you're here illegally, you shouldn't be here illegally," he said. "You shouldn't be here."
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 healthcare benefits, and letting prisoners out of jail early.
During a press conference, Carcieri linked both issues, saying illegal immigrants put financial strains on local school districts and stress state hospitals.
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 Major Steven O'Donnell said.
A.T. Wall, director of the Department of Corrections, 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.
Immigrant advocate Juan Garcia said he feared Carcieri's proposals would drive a vulnerable community underground.
He said that 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 proposed removing immigrant children, legal and illegal, from a state-subsidized healthcare plan.
He has also drawn fire from some immigrants' rights groups for cutting translators from the state payroll.