Deep Dive: Immigration in Rhode Island

Over at the White House, they’re talking about how dangerous immigrants are, how the election was rigged because of millions of undocumented people casting votes, and how we need to bar refugees and immigrants from our country. The NYT reports that President Trump’s proposed budget doubles down on these themes, targeting undocumented immigrants.

Here in Rhode Island, undocumented folks, immigrants and refugees are just trying to go to work and take care of their families. Instead, they are facing daily fear on a multitude of fronts: fear of deportation, fear of losing their jobs, fear of being separated from their families. The fears are multiplying.

Just last week at the “What does it really mean to be a Sanctuary City?” panel, Raul Figueroa of Fuerza Laboral (and a Resist Hate RI steering committee member) reported that some employees are going without pay after their bosses refused to pay them, reminding them instead how easy it would be to report them to ICE. Another man decided not to file a police report after being beat up in front of their family, for fear that ICE would be able to find them more easily. Many are scared to drive to work, for fear of being pulled over and then deported. Others are choosing to forego health care appointments, instead staying in their homes, where they can refuse to open the door to ICE officials.

There is real fear out there, and there is reason for it. The rules of who to deport have been expanded: the priority is no longer to only focus on criminals. The situation is dire.

But, here in RI there are several bills and campaigns in the works that will directly impact and help the 30,000 undocumented immigrants living in our state. If this issue matters to you, step up and plug in where you can help: at the state level or in your city or town.


There are three main issues that are currently in the state legislature:

  • Licenses and Permits: Would provide driving privilege licenses and permits to undocumented immigrants (House Bill 5686/Senate Bill 183)
  • Trust Act: Would affect how Rhode Island police officers handle detainers and holds (House BIll 5515)
  • Tuition Equity: Would give a way for undocumented immigrants to get in-state college tuition (House Bill 5237/Senate Bill 446)

Take STATEWIDE Action:

  • Call your senators: Call your senators and tell them you expect their support for Senate Bill 446 (Tuition) and Senate Bill 183 (Driving Privileges). Not sure who your senator is? Check here.
  • Call your reps: Call your reps and tell them you expect their support for House Bill 5686 (Driving Privileges), House Bill 5515 (Trust Act) and House Bill 5237 (Tuition). Not sure who your rep is? Check here.


It’s not known whether the Trust Act will pass (especially if the 8,000 of you throw your weight around at the state house!), but while the Trust Act works through the State House, another initiative is underway: turning Rhode Island into a “sanctuary state,” city by city.

In late March, the Rhode Island chapter of the ACLU created a model ordinance concerning immigration, which they sent to every municipality in the state. The draft ordinance sent by the ACLU today to Rhode Island’s mayors, police chiefs and city councils includes such provisions as requiring judicial warrants before honoring ICE detainers; assisting crime victims who may be eligible for special immigration status; rejecting participation in a program, known as 287(g), that essentially deputizes local police to serve as immigration agents; and avoiding other forms of engagement in immigration enforcement that can adversely affect public safety and undermine good police-community relations.

Since then, people and organizations have mobilized. Near the center of these efforts is the Unitarian church network here in Rhode Island. They are starting to work to connect with people in each municipality to raise awareness of and support for this ordinance.

Take Action:

If you want to push your city toward passing this ordinance, contact your mayor and chief of police and tell them you want this ordinance adopted.

This handy website includes letters you can print and mail. Also on the website you’ll find the contact information (address and phone number) for all the mayors and police chiefs in the state.


In Providence, the STEP UP Coalition continues to work on passing the Community Safety Act, which includes provisions related to immigration (as well as a swath of much-needed fair policing and anti-racial profiling provisions):

  1. Police may not inquire about an individual’s immigration status, and any identification issued by a government outside the U.S. like a consular ID, foreign driver’s license, or passport, will be accepted the same as an ID from a U.S. government agency.
  2. The Providence Police Department will not honor requests by ICE to arrest or detain any individual.

In Providence, the City Council needs to vote in favor of an ordinance twice for it to pass. The CSA passed the first vote in April unanimously, but in May, the CSA was tabled for further study. The second vote is now said to be scheduled for Thursday, June 1 (however, an agenda has not yet been posted confirming this).

Take Action:

  • Thursday, June 1 at Providence City Hall, Third Floor City Council Chambers at 7 p.m.: This is when city councilors have said there will be a vote, though an agenda has not yet been posted confirming the vote. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. Show up early if you want to ensure you have a seat. Bring a sign that shows your support.
  • Every day until June 1: If you live in Providence, you can express your support and insist on the June 1 vote for the CSA by visiting (best!), calling (great!) or emailing (still good!) your city councilor. Not sure who your city councilor is or how to get ahold of them? Find out here by entering your address or check the Community Safety Act website for contact info and messaging tips.
  • Canvassing: There may be an opportunity to canvass this weekend and next weekend, knocking on doors to tell people about the CSA and garner their support and action. Keep an eye on the Resist Hate RI events page for updates!

What organizations in RI are working on immigration issues?

There are a multitude of organizations who work with immigrants and refugees and who would love your support and assistance:

Do you know of immigration-relation work being done in your town that wasn’t described here? Do you know of an organization helping immigrants that was not listed here? Let us know at If you know of an event related to immigration (or other progressive actions), post them to our Facebook page!