PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island – Linking the presence of undocumented workers to Rhode Island's financial woes, Gov. Don Carcieri signed an executive order that includes a series of steps to combat illegal immigration.
The order signed Thursday requires state agencies and companies that do business with the state to verify the legal status of employees. It also directs the Rhode Island State Police and prison and parole officials to more aggressively find and deport illegal immigrants.
The Republican governor said he understands that illegal immigrants face hardships — but he does not want them in Rhode Island, America's smallest state. "If you're here illegally, you shouldn't be here illegally. You shouldn't be here," Carcieri said.
Immigrant advocate Juan Garcia feared Carcieri's proposals would drive a vulnerable community underground. He said 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's popularity has plummeted in recent months as Rhode Island faces an estimated $550 million (euro348.41 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 health care benefits and even letting prisoners out of jail early.
He blamed Congress for failing to set a new immigration policy. He said he supported increasing the number of legal immigrants and skilled workers allowed into the country.
Carcieri was testy when taking questions after signing the order. When a reporter asked if his order might embolden xenophobes, Carcieri blamed the media for inflaming the immigration debate.
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 Maj. Steven O'Donnell said.
Department of Corrections Director A.T. Wall 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 supported legislation that would force all companies in Rhode Island to do the same. He said he did not know how much his initiatives would cost, although he assumed they would save money in the long run.