8 quit R.I. commission over illegal immigrant crackdown
Accuse governor of bringing fear and segregation
PROVIDENCE - The majority of Governor Donald L. Carcieri's Commission on Hispanic Affairs resigned yesterday to protest his executive order cracking down on illegal immigrants, and they accused Carcieri of creating a climate of a fear and anxiety in Rhode Island.
Elida Araujo-Picard, commission secretary, said she hand-delivered the letter of resignation to Carcieri's office yesterday on behalf of herself and seven other panel members. Four of the panel's 12 members will remain.
"Your statements and appearances in the media have been instruments in creating fear, anxiety, and segregation in a community where citizens should be living in peace and harmony with each other," the letter said.
Carcieri received the letter and will replace the commissioners who quit, said his spokeswoman, Amy Kempe. She said Carcieri will not rescind the executive order.
"The Hispanic community will continue to have a voice in the Carcieri administration," Kempe said.
Members of the commission first threatened to quit after Carcieri signed an executive order in March forcing State Police and prison officials to identify illegal immigrants for possible deportation. His order also requires the executive branch to use a federal database to check the immigration status of new hires.
His order launched an emotional immigration debate in tiny Rhode Island, a state whose closest international border is with Canada, some 200 miles to the north.
When he signed the order, Carcieri cited studies estimating there were 20,000 to 40,000 illegal immigrants in Rhode Island, or roughly 2 percent to 4 percent of the population.
The state is facing massive budget deficits, and Carcieri accused illegal immigrants of financially straining cities, towns, and hospitals.
Jenny Rosario, commission vice chairwoman, resigned and said Carcieri should have consulted with his Hispanic advisers before signing the executive order. She fears it will increase racial-profiling by police and harm legal immigrants.
"We believe this is causing a stigma around the immigrant population, and we don't want to be part of it," Rosario said.
The commissioners who resigned are planning a State House news conference today to discuss their decision.