- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Uncertainty over President Donald Trump’s promised immigration enforcement crackdown is causing fear and political division in Rhode Island.

More than 100 activists protested inside the State House on Tuesday against state legislation that would order local officials from so-called sanctuary cities, including Providence, to comply with federal enforcement prerogatives and punish those officials with jail time or other penalties when they don’t.

The immigrant rights activists crowded inside the chamber of the state House of Representatives shortly before it was in session, confronting and later booing the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Arthur Corvese, a North Providence Democrat. A smaller group also protested earlier in the day outside Corvese’s suburban medical office, where he works as an optometrist.

“There are some bad actors in the immigrant community, and we have to do our best … to codify into law a system by which there are no loopholes,” Corvese told the activists inside the House chamber Tuesday after they asked him to drop the bill. He said he wouldn’t take his name off of it on principle, though he did say it was “perhaps too broadly written.”

Corvese introduced the bill earlier this year with a group of Democrats and some Republicans who represent predominantly white suburbs, but it’s opposed by other Democrats representing Providence and cities with large immigrant communities. Corvese also introduced a similar bill a year ago and said it was not specifically aimed at Providence’s Democratic Mayor Jorge Elorza, who has pledged to protect city residents who are in the country illegally from being turned over to the Trump administration for minor violations.

Two Democratic co-sponsors already have taken their names off Corvese’s bill. One of them, Tiverton Rep. John Edwards, said Tuesday he took his name off because “it was a lot further reaching than what was originally described.” Another, North Providence Rep. William O’Brien, said he decided it was unnecessary after learning that the state was already abiding by warrant requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo said Monday after a meeting with the Republican president and the nation’s governors at the White House that the state won’t be changing its policies on immigrants.

“The president, in our private meeting this morning, pledged to us governors that his focus was not on deporting law-abiding undocumented immigrants,” Raimondo said late Monday. “His focus was on, in his words, ‘Getting the bad guys.’ He said there are many immigrants engaged in criminal activity, which is dangerous, and that’s going to be the focus of his raids.”

Raimondo added that the governors “pressed him on it and we said, ‘So can we go back and tell undocumented, you know, law-abiding undocumented citizens, you’re not going after them? You’re not going to be doing random raids on them?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ So I think we ought to hold him to that.”

But activists who spoke Tuesday said Trump’s executive actions expanding federal deportation priorities have broad reach and are causing fear in Rhode Island’s immigrant communities.

The Providence Public Schools sent a letter to parents late last month advising them of their rights.

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