On Monday, Oct. 23, the South Kingstown Town Council passed the Municipal Immigrant Protection Ordinance 3-2.
The ordinance, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is designed to help to protect immigrants from wrongful targeting. It is stated within the ordinance that the Town will comply with state and federal constitutions and nondiscrimination laws and will not profile individuals based on “religion, race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression or immigration status.”
The ordinance also states that the South Kingstown Police Department’s mission is to enforce state and local criminal laws and to protect the community. It is stated that police will not administer Federal Immigration Law. It is also stated that the police will not inquire about immigration status of an “individual including a crime victim, a witness, or a person who calls or approaches police seeking assistance, unless necessary to investigate criminal activity that is unrelated to the enforcement of civil immigration law.” The police will also not be able to hold people pass the 48 hour detaining period or stop, question, investigate or arrest an individual based on actual or suspected immigration unless by judicial decision or federal or state law.
Timothy Murphy, a resident of South Kingstown for 33 years and in favor of the ordinance, spoke up on that piece saying that people would be able to go forward to the police “without fear.”
“The [Trump] administration made it clear it expects local Police Departments such as ours to help find and detain suspected immigration violators but immigration enforcement has always, always been a federal responsibility,” Murphy said, going on to add that detaining people without a warrant is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
While many were in support of the ordinance, some stood in opposition, such as Paul Daley of West Kingstown.
“To me, this ordinance coming from a national group represents an intrusion into the order of our local government,” he said adding that the national and federal groups are not concerned with the reality of the life in South Kingstown. Dailey made sure to inform people that he was not discriminating but instead questioning the ordinance that is, “to remedy non-existent problems in our town.”
The adoption of the ordinance also affects the University of Rhode Island as it is in the town of South Kingstown. As stated in the revised version, URI has 500 international graduate and undergraduate students, 54 employees with green card status and 33 employees with H1-B visas which is a temporary worker visa.
At the roughly three-hour meeting, many people stood in support and opposition of the ordinance. University President David M. Dooley put in a letter in support of the ordinance. In the letter, Dooley expresses his support for a “safe and welcoming community” and that the ordinance demonstrates the community’s commitment to safety, diversity, and equality. He states that the University is a place to be celebrated for its people.
“It is the diverse students, staff, and the faculty that have made, and will continue to make, the University of Rhode Island a truly special place that is a force for good in America and the world, no matter how uncertain or challenging our circumstances may be at any given moments,” Dooley said in his letter. He closed saying that the University values its relationship with the town, thanking the council for their service and that we appreciate the leadership within the Town Council that encourages individuals and families from other countries to “come to our community to work, study and thrive.”
Andy Boardman, president of the URI College Democrats, said that because URI prides itself on being a welcoming and inclusive community, this ordinance is important to the University because of the DACA recipients, the staff here on work visas and anyone affected by immigration.
“Those members of our community are entitled to the same respect and to the same rights as anyone else,” he said. Boardman simplified the ordinance, saying that “it’s about ensuring due process and equal protection apply to all members of our community.”
“It is protecting all members of [our] community, ensuring safety and due process and equal protection and protecting the Police Department and taxpayers from financial harm of lawsuits,” he said.
Boardman said he wants to personally thank every URI student who wrote a letter to the town council or signed a postcard for getting involved and sharing their thoughts. He also wants to thank the three Town Council members who voted in favor of the ordinance.
“I value their bravery and their values in this,” said Boardman.
Harris Pitnof of West Kingston stood in support of the ordinance, urging the town council members to “do what is not easy but what is necessary.”
“I am looking at you five folks up there and it appears you all have funny last names,” he said. “I’d reasonable presume your grandparents, great grandparents or before them didn’t come from Rhode Island. They came from someplace else. This is a nation of immigrants.”
Pitnof went on to say that we do not know what is going to happen but it is important for people of good will to do something.