South Kingstown Enacts Comprehensive Ordinance to Protect Immigrants in the Community

Posted: Oct, 24, 2017

The South Kingstown Town Council voted last night to adopt a strong and comprehensive ordinance protecting immigrants in their community from inappropriate and sometimes constitutionally dubious federal immigration actions and requests. The enactment, based on a model ordinance that the ACLU of Rhode Island circulated in March to all municipalities in the state, capped a months-long and vigorous lobbying effort by a local group, the South Kingstown Immigration Task Force, to get the ordinance enacted. The ordinance’s adoption comes at a time of increasing hostility at the federal level to immigrants, both lawful and undocumented.

Among other things, the adopted ordinance generally bars police from inquiring about the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses, or others; rejects participation in a federal program, known as 287(g), that essentially deputizes local police to serve as immigration agents; bans participation in any federal program requiring the registration of individuals based on their religion, ethnicity or national origin; and limits other forms of engagement in immigration enforcement that can adversely affect public safety and undermine good police-community relations.

Thirty people spoke in support of the ordinance, which follows a non-binding resolution the Council unanimously passed in March expressing support for the protection of immigrant rights. H. Jefferson Melish, a member of the Task Force as well as an ACLU Board member, said today: “The Council’s vote yesterday was a great victory for the rule of law and an unequivocal statement that South Kingstown is a welcoming community. The diverse support for the ordinance – from religious groups, concerned residents, URI faculty, students and administrators, and many others – showed democracy working at its finest.”

Carl Krueger, a staff attorney at the Dorcas International Institute of RI who provided legal support to the Task Force, added: “I think the effect of the ordinance’s passage is huge. It codifies into law the important principle that local police are not going to be involved in the federal immigration enforcement business. The stand that the Council took in the face of opposition from the police chief and town manager speaks volumes about how seriously Council members have taken this issue and how truly welcoming the Council wants the town to be to the immigrant community.”

In a letter accompanying the draft ordinance in March, the ACLU noted that the proposal “promotes public safety by maintaining and encouraging positive police-community relations. Residents serve as witnesses, report crime, and otherwise assist law enforcement. The foundation for this cooperation can often be destroyed when local police are viewed as an extension of the immigration system.” The ordinance, the letter added, “is fully consistent with federal law, and does not bar police officers from continuing to cooperate with ICE in enforcing immigration law when backed by judicial authority or otherwise properly mandated by federal law.”

The ordinance passed by a 3-2 vote. The Councilors supporting the ordinance were Abel Collins, Bryant Da Cruz and Liz Gledhill. The opponents, Margaret Healy and Joe Viele, argued that the resolution passed earlier in the year by the Council was sufficient.

Melish expressed hope that passage of the proactive ordinance would encourage other municipalities in the state to take similar action.

For more information on the ACLU of RI model ordinance, click here.

For a DRAFT version of South Kingstown's ordinance, click here (final version forthcoming shortly).